The mechanical effects of the intermediate filament protein desmin was examined in desmin deficient mice (Des-/-) and their wild type control (Des+/+). Active force generation was determined in intact soleus muscles and in skinned single fibres from soleus and psoas. A decreased force generation of skinned muscle fibres from Des-/- mice and a tendency towards decreased active force in intact soleus muscle were detected. Concentrations of the contractile protein actin and myosin were not altered in Des-/- muscles. Ca(2+)-sensitivity of skinned single fibres in Des-/- muscles was unchanged compared to Des+/+. Using a protocol with repeated short tetani an increased fatigue resistance was found in the intact soleus muscles from Des-/- mice. In conclusion, desmin intermediate filaments are required for optimal generation or transmission of active force in skeletal muscle. Although other studies have shown that the desmin intermediate filaments appear to influence Ca(2+)-handling, the Ca(2+)-sensitivity of the contractile filaments is not altered in skeletal muscle of Des-/- mice. Previous studies have reported a switch towards slower myosin isoforms in slow skeletal muscle of Des-/- mice. The increased fatigue resistance show that this change is reflected in the physiological function of the muscle.