Background: The purpose of this investigation was to compare capillarity and fiber type proportions of the vastus lateralis muscle between patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and healthy subjects.
Methods: Fifteen male subjects were included in the study (8 COPD: 61.0 +/- 1.8 years [mean +/- SEM]; forced expiratory volume in 1 second 42.0 +/- 2.1% predicted; 7 N: age 54.0 +/- 1.1). Subjects were submitted to a symptom-limited maximal exercise test on ergocycle. After a transcutaneous biopsy of the vastus lateralis muscle, sections were cut 8 to 10 microns thick and stained with the Andersen method for capillarity and Stevens method for fiber typing.
Results: Patients with COPD had a decrease in peak oxygen consumption compared with healthy subjects (1.2 +/- 0.1 versus 3.0 +/- 0.2 L/min). Number of capillaries per square millimeter was lower in patients with COPD versus healthy subjects (92.6 +/- 16.1 and 213.3 +/- 33.5, P < 0.001); percentages of fiber types were 43.5 +/- 5.5% type I, 56.5 +/- 5.5% type II in COPD, and 56.7 +/- 3.4% type I, 43.2 +/- 3.4% type II in healthy subjects (P < 0.05). In addition, capillaries/fiber ratio was 0.83 +/- 0.05 in COPD, and 1.56 +/- 0.10 in healthy subjects (P < 0.001).
Conclusion: As expected, patients with COPD showed a decrease in exercise capacity. The muscle analysis results indicate that patients with COPD have a greater proportion of type II fibers and a much lower capillaries/fiber ratio than normal subjects. We conclude that COPD adversely affects fiber type and capillarization of the lower limbs. This could be partly caused by deconditioning in these patients.