Key points

  • Satellite cell activation and fusion accompany resistance exercise training.
  • Aerobic exercise training is capable of inducing subtle muscle fibre hypertrophy; however, the role of satellite cell activation during aerobic exercise-induced muscle adaptation is unknown.
  • Twelve weeks of aerobic training in sedentary subjects yielded an increase in myosin heavy chain type I and type II muscle fibre cross-sectional area.
  • Satellite cell activation and myonuclear addition occurred only in myosin heavy chain type I fibres, with no change in myosin heavy chain type II fibres.
  • These results help us better understand the role of satellite cells in muscle fibre adaptation to aerobic exercise, and suggest differential fibre type regulation of the myonuclear domain.


In the present study, we sought to determine the effect of a traditional, 12 week aerobic training protocol on skeletal muscle fibre type distribution and satellite cell content in sedentary subjects. Muscle biopsies were obtained from the vastus lateralis [n = 23 subjects (six male and 17 female); body mass index 30.7 ± 1.2 kg m−2] before and after 12 weeks of aerobic training performed on a cycle ergometer. Immunohistochemical analyses were used to quantify myosin heavy chain (MyHC) isoform expression, cross-sectional area and satellite cell and myonuclear content. Following training, a decrease in MyHC hybrid type IIa/IIx fibre frequency occurred, with a concomitant increase in pure MyHC type IIa fibres. Pretraining fibre type correlated with body mass index, and the change in fibre type following training was associated with improvements in maximal oxygen consumption. Twelve weeks of aerobic training also induced increases in mean cross-sectional area in both MyHC type I and type IIa fibres. Satellite cell content was also increased following training, specifically in MyHC type I fibres, with no change in the number of satellite cells associated with MyHC type II fibres. With the increased satellite cell content following training, an increase in myonuclear number per fibre also occurred in MyHC type I fibres. Hypertrophy of MyHC type II fibres occurred without detectable myonuclear addition, suggesting that the mechanisms underlying growth in fast and slow fibres differ. These data provide intriguing evidence for a fibre type-specific role of satellite cells in muscle adaptation following aerobic training.