Cellular mechanisms of fatigue in skeletal muscle

Am J Physiol. 1991 Aug;261(2 Pt 1):C195-209. doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.1991.261.2.C195.


Prolonged activation of skeletal muscle leads to a decline of force production known as fatigue. In this review we outline the ionic and metabolic changes that occur in muscle during prolonged activity and focus on how these changes might lead to reduced force. We discuss two distinct types of fatigue: fatigue due to continuous high-frequency stimulation and fatigue due to repeated tetanic stimulation. The causes of force decline are considered under three categories: 1) reduced Ca2+ release from the sarcoplasmic reticulum, 2) reduced myofibrillar Ca2+ sensitivity, and 3) reduced maximum Ca(2+)-activated tension. Reduced Ca2+ release can be due to impaired action potential propagation in the T tubules, and this is a principal cause of the tension decline with continuous tetanic stimulation. Another type of failing Ca2+ release, which is homogeneous across the fibers, is prominent with repeated tetanic stimulation; the underlying mechanisms of this reduction are not fully understood, although several possibilities emerge. Changes in intracellular metabolites, particularly increased concentration of Pi and reduced pH, lead to reduced Ca2+ sensitivity and reduced maximum tension, which make an important contribution to the force decline, especially with repeated tetanic stimulation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Actin Cytoskeleton / physiology
  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Calcium / physiology
  • Electrolytes / metabolism
  • Histological Techniques
  • Humans
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscles / cytology
  • Muscles / metabolism
  • Muscles / physiology*
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Sarcoplasmic Reticulum


  • Electrolytes
  • Calcium