The impact of biochemical methods for single muscle fibre analysis

Acta Physiol Scand. 1999 Aug;166(4):261-77. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-201x.1999.00568.x.


Biochemical methods for single muscle fibre analysis provide sensitive measures for elucidating muscle fibre heterogeneity. The understanding of the complexity of skeletal muscle fibres, initially based on qualitative histochemistry and immunohistochemistry, has been greatly expanded by quantitative micromethods, such as microphotometry and microbiochemical assays. Assessment of metabolic enzyme activity levels has revealed pronounced scattering within and between different fibre types and has highlighted the use of specific enzyme activity ratios as discriminative measures. With the exception of type I fibres, metabolic properties are loosely coupled with molecular properties of the myofibrillar apparatus. As such, myosin heavy chain (MHC) isoforms appear to be the best choice for fibre type delineation. Among the two available methods for MHC-based fibre type distinction, single fibre electrophoresis appears to be superior to immunohistochemistry. The electrophoretic separation of MHC isoforms in single fibres is quantitative and, as opposed to immunohistochemistry, yields important information on MHC isoform proportions in hybrid fibres. Histochemical staining for myofibrillar ATPase activity can, thus, be correlated in most cases with specific MHC isoform profiles. Single fibre studies have demonstrated a relationship between ATP phosphorylation potential and MHC isoform complement. This relationship corresponds to different tension costs and provides an additional rationale for the MHC-based fibre type diversity and transitions. The combination of reverse transcriptase (RT) with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) has proved to be a highly sensitive tool and has extended single fibre analysis to the level of MHC mRNA isoforms. Application of RT-PCR techniques to single fibre fragments identified by their MHC protein isoform profile, provides insights at two levels of expression and, thus, has extended our knowledge on the plasticity of muscle and the dynamical state of muscle fibres.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biochemistry / methods*
  • Humans
  • Microchemistry
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / chemistry*
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / classification
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / metabolism