• horse;
  • endurance;
  • biopsy;
  • skeletal muscle;
  • mitochondria


Reasons for performing study: Limited information exists about the muscle mitochondrial respiratory function changes that occur in horses during an endurance season.

Objectives: To determine effects of training and racing on muscle oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) and electron transport system (ETS) capacities in horses with high resolution respirometry (HRR).

Methods: Mitochondrial respiration was measured in microbiopsies taken from the triceps brachii (tb) and gluteus medius (gm) muscles in 8 endurance horses (7 purebred Arabians and 1 crossbred Arabian) before training (T0), after two 10 week training periods (T1, T2) and after 2 CEI** endurance races (R1, R2). Muscle OXPHOS capacity was determined using 2 titration protocols without (SUIT 1) or with pyruvate (SUIT 2) as substrate. Electrons enter at the level of Complex I, Complex II or both complexes simultaneously (Complexes I+II). Muscle ETS capacity was obtained by uncoupling Complexes I+II sustained respiration.

Results: T1 improved OXPHOS and ETS capacities in the tb as demonstrated by the significant increase of oxygen fluxes vs. T0 (Complex I: +67%; ETS: +37%). Training improved only OXPHOS in the gm (Complex I: +34%). Among horses that completed the race, a significant decrease in OXPHOS (Complex I: ∼−35%) and ETS (−22%) capacities was found in the tb with SUIT 2 indicating a reduced aerobic glycolysis. Significant correlations between CK activities and changes in OXPHOS were found suggesting a relationship between exercise-induced muscle damage and depression of mitochondrial respiration.

Conclusions: For the first time, OXPHOS and ETS capacities in equine muscle at different steps of an endurance season have been determined by HRR. Significant alterations in mitochondrial respiratory function in response to endurance training and endurance racing have been observed although these changes appeared to be muscle group specific.