- • Several biochemical measures of mitochondrial components are used as biomarkers of mitochondrial content and muscle oxidative capacity. However, no studies have validated these surrogates against a morphological measure of mitochondrial content in human subjects.
- • The most commonly used markers (citrate synthase activity, cardiolipin content, mitochondrial DNA content (mtDNA), complex I–V protein, and complex I–IV activity) were correlated with a measure of mitochondrial content (transmission electron microscopy) and muscle oxidative capacity (respiration in permeabilized fibres).
- • Cardiolipin content followed by citrate synthase activity and complex I activity were the biomarkers showing the strongest association with mitochondrial content.
- • mtDNA was found to be a poor biomarker of mitochondrial content.
- • Complex IV activity was closely associated with mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation capacity.
Abstract Skeletal muscle mitochondrial content varies extensively between human subjects. Biochemical measures of mitochondrial proteins, enzyme activities and lipids are often used as markers of mitochondrial content and muscle oxidative capacity (OXPHOS). The purpose of this study was to determine how closely associated these commonly used biochemical measures are to muscle mitochondrial content and OXPHOS. Sixteen young healthy male subjects were recruited for this study. Subjects completed a graded exercise test to determine maximal oxygen uptake () and muscle biopsies were obtained from the vastus lateralis. Mitochondrial content was determined using transmission electron microscopy imaging and OXPHOS was determined as the maximal coupled respiration in permeabilized fibres. Biomarkers of interest were citrate synthase (CS) activity, cardiolipin content, mitochondrial DNA content (mtDNA), complex I–V protein content, and complex I–IV activity. Spearman correlation coefficient tests and Lin's concordance tests were applied to assess the absolute and relative association between the markers and mitochondrial content or OXPHOS. Subjects had a large range of (range 29.9–71.6 ml min−1 kg−1) and mitochondrial content (4–15% of cell volume). Cardiolipin content showed the strongest association with mitochondrial content followed by CS and complex I activities. mtDNA was not related to mitochondrial content. Complex IV activity showed the strongest association with muscle oxidative capacity followed by complex II activity. We conclude that cardiolipin content, and CS and complex I activities are the biomarkers that exhibit the strongest association with mitochondrial content, while complex IV activity is strongly associated with OXPHOS capacity in human skeletal muscle.