The concentration and localization of hyaluronan (HYA) were determined in biopsy specimens from resting human quadriceps femoris and anterior tibial muscles. The influence of physical exercise on HYA concentrations in the quadriceps femoris muscle and in blood was also evaluated. A sensitive radioassay was used for the quantification of HYA. The distribution of the glycosaminoglycan was demonstrated using a histochemical method that involved microwave-aided fixation and an HYA-binding protein. At rest, the muscle HYA concentration was 34.9 +/- 23.6 (SD) micrograms/g muscle wet wt with a large interindividual variation. Exercise had no significant effect on the muscle HYA concentration. The serum HYA concentration increased from 35.9 +/- 22.7 to 53.4 +/- 57.1 micrograms/l during exercise, but 30 min after the exercise the HYA concentration was significantly lower (19.1 +/- 6.3 micrograms/l) than the initial preexercise value. In resting skeletal muscles of the lower extremity, HYA was heterogeneously distributed in the perimysium and endomysium. Perivascular and perineural connective tissues were distinctly HYA positive.