Capillary supply and oxidative and glycolytic enzyme activities were determined in muscle biopsies from the tibialis anterior muscle in six prior polio patients and a control group. The polio patients, who had paresis and atrophy, but were able to walk normally by making maximal use of all remaining anterior tibial motor units, showed type I (slow-twitch) muscle fibre predominance with a mean (SD) of 98 (2%) type I fibres versus 81 (8)% in the controls (p less than 0.01) and muscle fibre hypertrophy, the average type I fibre cross-sectional area being 108% (p less than 0.005) larger than in the controls. The number of capillaries per muscle fibre was not significantly different from that in the control group, but with the increased muscle fibre area in the polio patients, the capillary density was significantly lower. The number of capillaries in contact with type I fibres relative to fibre area was 40% lower in the patients than in the controls (p less than 0.005). The levels of citrate synthase and phosphofructokinase were significantly lower (38% and 33%, respectively, p less than 0.05) in the patients than in the controls, indicating decreased oxidative and glycolytic potentials in the muscle fibres of the polio patients. It is proposed that the abnormal high-frequency activation of all remaining motor units during each step cycle recorded in these patients constitutes a stimulus for type I muscle fibre predominance and hypertrophy but that the overall low muscle usage results in a decreased stimulation of capillary proliferation and mitochondrial enzyme synthesis. The low capillary density and decreased oxidative and glycolytic enzyme potentials might be important factors for the development of muscle weakness, fatigue and muscle pain, which are commonly occurring symptoms in patients with prior poliomyelitis.
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