Variation of skeletal muscle ultrasound imaging intensity in horses after treadmill exercise: a proof of concept for glycogen content estimation

BMC Vet Res. 2021 Mar 16;17(1):121. doi: 10.1186/s12917-021-02818-9.


Background: Glycogen in skeletal muscle is a major source of energy during exercise and an important determinant of endurance capacity, so that its measurement may provide a meaningful marker of athletes' preparation and a possible predictor of performance, both in humans and in equines. Gold standard of glycogen concentration measurement is the histochemical and biochemical analysis of biopsy-derived muscle tissue, an invasive and potentially injuring procedure. Recently, high-frequency ultrasound (US) technology is being exploited in human sports medicine to estimate muscle glycogen content. Therefore, aim of the present study is to evaluate the feasibility of US assessment of muscle glycogen in equines.

Results: US images of gluteus medius (GL) and semitendinosus (ST) muscles were obtained on eight healthy horses (3-10 years) before and after a steady-state exercise on treadmill (velocity: 4.0-12.5 m/s; duration: 2-20 min; heart rate: 137-218 b/min). Average image greyscale intensity was significantly different between GL and ST, both before and after exercise (p < 0.001). Comparing baseline and post-exercise US images, significant increase in greyscale intensity has been observed in ST (p < 0.001), but not in GL (p = 0.129). The volume of the exercise was significantly correlated with exercise-dependent change in image intensity (R2 = 0.891), consistent with a reduction of glycogen muscle stores resulting from aerobic activity.

Conclusions: US technique evidences also in horses muscle changes possibly associated to glycogen utilisation during exercise. Present results on a small sample need to be further confirmed and provide preliminary data warranting future validation by direct glycogen measurement through biopsy technique.

Keywords: Exercise; Greyscale; Horses; Muscle glycogen; Treadmill; Ultrasound.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Exercise Test / veterinary
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Glycogen / analysis*
  • Horses*
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / chemistry*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / diagnostic imaging*
  • Ultrasonography, Interventional / veterinary


  • Glycogen