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Respir Physiol. 1992 Jul;89(1):113-32.

Capillary-to-fiber geometry and mitochondrial density in hummingbird flight muscle.

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Department of Medicine, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla 92093-0623.


We investigated structural characteristics for high O2 flux in hummingbird flight muscle, i.e. the most O2 demanding skeletal muscle per unit tissue mass among vertebrates. Pectoralis and supracoracoideus muscles of 3-4 g hummingbirds (Selaphorus rufus) were perfusion fixed in situ, processed for electron microscopy and analyzed by morphometry. Small fiber size (group mean +/- SE, 201 +/- 14 microns 2 at 2.1 microns sarcomere length), large capillary length per fiber volume (8947 +/- 869 mm-2) and high mitochondrial volume density per volume of muscle fiber (34.5 +/- 0.9%) were characteristic features of the muscles. Considering capillary supply and mitochondrial volume on an individual fiber basis showed that the size of the capillary-to-fiber interface (i.e. capillary surface per fiber surface) was also high in the muscles. Comparison with mammalian hindlimb pointed to a major role of the size of the capillary-to-fiber interface in providing a great potential for O2 flux rate from capillary to muscle fiber mitochondria in hummingbird flight muscle.

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