Differential modulation of MHC phenotype in an inactive extensor and flexor muscle of adult rats

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Journal of Anatomy


Exercise Science


The effects of chronic neuromuscular inactivity on the phenotype and size of muscle fibres in a fast ankle extensor (medial gastrocnemius, MG) and a fast ankle flexor (tibialis anterior, TA) muscle of the rat hindlimb were determined. Inactivity was produced by spinal cord isolation (SI), i.e. complete spinal cord transections at a mid-thoracic and high sacral level and bilateral deafferentation between the transection sites. After 90 days of SI, the MG and TA muscle weights were 53 and 45% lower than in age-matched controls. Overall mean fibre sizes in the deep (close to the bone) and superficial (away from the bone) regions were ?60 and 65% smaller in the MG and ?40 and 50% smaller in the TA of SI than control rats, respectively. The myosin heavy chain (MHC) composition shifted towards the faster isoforms after SI: the MG showed an increase in both types IIx (20%) and IIb (23%), whereas the TA showed a marked increase in type IIx (94%) and a decrease in type IIb (18%) MHC. Both muscles in SI rats showed no type IIa and only one MG muscle had ?5% type I MHC. These results show that prolonged inactivity has a stronger effect on a fast extensor compared with a fast flexor in the rat hindlimb. The larger decrease in mass and fibre size in the MG than the TA most probably reflects the larger impact of chronic inactivity on the normally more highly recruited extensor than flexor muscle. The primary shift to type IIb MHC in the MG and type IIx MHC in the TA indicate a different default mode for an inactive extensor vs. flexor muscle, and may reflect differing activity-independent neural influences, i.e. neurotrophic factors, on muscle fibre phenotype in extensors vs. flexors.