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J Appl Physiol (1985). 1991 Apr;70(4):1882-5.

Effects of lower limb unloading on skeletal muscle mass and function in humans.

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  • 1Department of Physiology, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden.


A model to simulate effects of microgravity on skeletal muscle mass and function in humans has been developed. Unilateral lower limb unloading that allowed ankle, knee, and hip joint mobility was conducted in six healthy men by suspending one lower limb and having the subjects walk on crutches. They performed maximal unilateral concentric or eccentric quadriceps actions at different angular velocities before and after 4 wk of suspension and after 4 days and after 7 wk of uncontrolled recovery. Peak torque (PT) and angle-specific torque (AST) were measured. Muscle cross-sectional area (CSA) and radiological density (RD) of the thigh were assessed by means of computerized tomography. Concentric and eccentric PT and AST across speeds decreased (P less than 0.05) by 22 and 16%, respectively, in response to unloading. At 4 days of recovery PT (-11%) and AST (-7%) were still lower (P less than 0.05) than before. Muscle CSA and RD decreased (P less than 0.05) by 7 and 6%, respectively. After 7 wk of recovery PT, AST, CSA, and RD had returned to normal. The control limb showed no changes over the experimental period except for a 6% decrease (P less than 0.05) in RD. It is suggested that this human model of unloading could serve to simulate effects of microgravity on skeletal muscle mass and function because reductions in muscle mass and strength were of similar magnitude to those produced by bed rest.

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