Organization and distribution of intramuscular connective tissue in normal and immobilized skeletal muscles. An immunohistochemical, polarization and scanning electron microscopic study

J Muscle Res Cell Motil. 2002;23(3):245-54. doi: 10.1023/a:1020904518336.


Collagen fiber network is a major contributor to the coherence and tensile strength of normal skeletal muscle. Despite the well-recognized importance of the intramuscular connective tissue to the normal integrity and function of the skeletal muscle, the specific architecture including the location and three-dimensional orientation of the intramuscular connective tissue within the muscle tissue is poorly described. The structure of the intramuscular connective tissue was studied by immunohistochemistry, polarization microscopy (the crimp length and angle of the collagen fibers) and scanning electron microscope (SEM) in rat skeletal muscles (gastrocnemius, soleus and tibialis anterior) in normal situation and after 3 weeks of disuse (immobilization). Three separate networks of collagen fibers were distinguished by SEM in the normal endomysium; fibers running longitudinally on the surface of the muscle fibers (the main collagen orientation), fibers running perpendicularly to the long axis of the muscle fibers and having contacts with adjacent muscle fibers, and fibers attached to the intramuscular nerves and arteries. Similarly, the SEM analysis also disclosed three distinct collagen fiber networks running in different directions in the perimysium, but, contrary to the endomysium, the main fiber orientation could not be established. Immobilization resulted in a marked increase in the endo- and perimysial connective tissue, the majority of the increased endomysial collagen being deposited directly on the sarcolemma of the muscle cells. Immobilization also resulted in substantial increase in the number of perpendicularly oriented collagen fibers with contacts to two adjacent muscle fibers in the endomysium. Further, immobilization clearly disturbed the normal structure of the endomysium making it impossible to distinguish the various networks of fibers from each other. In the perimysium, immobilization-induced changes were similar, the number of longitudinally oriented collagen fibers was increased, the connective tissue was very dense, the number of irregularly oriented collagen fibers was markedly increased, and consequently, the different networks of collagen fibers could not be distinguished from each other. Of the three studied intact muscles, the crimp angle of the collagen fibers was lowest in the soleus and highest in the gastrocnemius muscle, and the crimp angle decreased over 10% in all muscles after the immobilization-period. Altogether, the above described quantitative and qualitative changes in the intramuscular connective tissue are likely to contribute to the deteriorated function and biomechanical properties of the immobilized skeletal muscle.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Collagen / metabolism
  • Collagen / ultrastructure*
  • Collagen Type I / metabolism
  • Collagen Type I / ultrastructure
  • Collagen Type III / metabolism
  • Collagen Type III / ultrastructure
  • Connective Tissue / metabolism
  • Connective Tissue / ultrastructure*
  • Immobilization / adverse effects
  • Immobilization / physiology
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / ultrastructure*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / ultrastructure*
  • Muscular Atrophy / metabolism
  • Muscular Atrophy / pathology
  • Muscular Atrophy / physiopathology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Restraint, Physical


  • Collagen Type I
  • Collagen Type III
  • Collagen