Muscle fatigue and training following spinal cord injury

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In this research programme supervised by Professor Anthony J Sargeant we were able to document some of the effects of training on the muscles of spinal cord injured people.

A spinal cord injury usually leads to an increase in contractile speed and fatigability of the paralysed quadriceps muscles, which is probably due to an increased expression of fast myosin heavy chain (MHC) isoforms and reduced oxidative capacity. Sometimes, however, fatigue resistance is maintained in these muscles and also contractile speed is slower than expected. To obtain a better understanding of the diversity of these quadriceps muscles and to determine the effects of training on characteristics of paralysed muscles, fibre characteristics and whole muscle function were assessed in six subjects with spinal cord lesions before and after a 12-week period of daily low-frequency electrical stimulation.

Relatively high levels of MHC type I were found in three subjects and this corresponded with a high degree of fusion in 10-Hz force responses (r=0.88). Fatigability was related to the activity of succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) (r=0.79). Furthermore, some differentiation between fibre types in terms of metabolic properties were present, with type I fibres expressing the highest levels of SDH and lowest levels of alpha-glycerophosphate dehydrogenase. After training, SDH activity increased by 76+/-26% but fibre diameter and MHC expression remained unchanged. The results indicate that expression of contractile proteins and metabolic properties seem to underlie the relatively normal functional muscle characteristics observed in some paralysed muscles. Furthermore, training-induced changes in fatigue resistance seem to arise, in part, from an improved oxidative capacity

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