Metabolic profile of myosin heavy chain-based fiber types in the rat soleus after spinal cord transection

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Virginia Tech


Fully differentiated muscle fibers can undergo considerable phenotypic changes in order to adjust to changing conditions of the physiological environment. It is generally accepted that the electrical impulses a muscle receives play a role in modulating the quantities of metabolic proteins (glycolytic and oxidative enzymes) and types of contractile proteins (myosin heavy chain, MHC) that are expressed. Research has shown that decreased neuromuscular activation following spinal cord transection (ST) results in adaptations in the physiological characteristics of paralyzed muscles, including atrophy and an accompanying loss of force production, and transformations of contractile and metabolic proteins toward a more fatigable state. However, it remains unclear whether or not a strong interdependence of energy metabolism and MHC isoform composition persists. Therefore, the goal of this study was to identify and quantify relative myosin heavy chain (MHC) isoform expression and metabolic enzyme profile adaptations at multiple time points (1, 3 and 6 months) in soleus fibers of rats following spinal cord transection (ST).

To accomplish this, female Sprague-Dawley rats (~150 g, n = 15) were subjected to complete transection of the spinal cord at a mid-thoracic level. Age and weight-matched, non-operated rats served as controls (n = 15). The soleus was processed for quantitative single fiber histochemical analyses for succinate dehydrogenase (SDH, oxidative marker) and a-glycerophosphate dehydrogenase (GPD, glycolytic marker) activities (~30 fibers/muscle) and immunohistochemical analysis for MHC isoform composition. The total number of soleus fibers analyzed was ~900.

Oxidative capacity was increased in muscle fibers at all time points after ST. Specifically, SDH activity was significantly higher than controls by 142, 127 and 206% at 1, 3 and 6 months post-ST, respectively. ISDH, a measure of total oxidative power, also increased in muscle fibers at all time points after ST. For example, 6 months after ST ISDH activity was 93% higher than controls (91.8-3.8 vs. 47.6-0.9 OD x 10-3, respectively).

Glycolytic capacity peaked one month after ST. Thereafter, glycolytic capacity of all fibers steadily declined. For example, by 6 months, GPD activity had declined by 76% compared to 1 month GPD activities (3.3-0.2 vs. 13.7-1.4 OD x 10-3, respectively). These data suggest that the increases in glycolytic capacity are transient as fibers transition toward a faster MHC phenotype and then return towards control levels as fibers of a given type become phenotypically stable.

The GPD/SDH ratio, an index of metabolic substrate utilization, peaked at one month after ST (394-41) and significantly decreased at 3 months (224-10) and at 6 months (95-7) after ST. Therefore, a shift occurred such that a greater dependence on oxidative metabolism was apparent.

These data suggest that the oxidative capacities of soleus muscle fibers are not compromised after ST. In fact, as the fibers transitioned toward faster MHC isoforms, the GPD/SDH ratio was maintained or decreased, suggesting a reliance on oxidative metabolism regardless of MHC isoform composition. This might imply a dissociation between the contractile and metabolic characteristics of paralyzed soleus muscle fibers. However, these data are consistent with previous data and suggest that the increased fatigability observed after chronic reductions in neuromuscular activity are not due to compromised capacities for ATP synthesis.



GPD, SDH, spinal cord transection, myosin heavy chain