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Pflugers Arch. 2014 Mar;466(3):577-85. doi: 10.1007/s00424-013-1331-z. Epub 2013 Aug 3.

Effects of N-acetylcysteine on isolated mouse skeletal muscle: contractile properties, temperature dependence, and metabolism.

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Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Karolinska Institutet, 17177, Stockholm, Sweden,


The effects of the general antioxidant N-acetylcysteine (NAC) on muscle function and metabolism were examined. Isolated paired mouse extensor digitorum longus muscles were studied in the absence or presence of 20 mM NAC. Muscles were electrically stimulated to perform 100 isometric tetanic contractions (300 ms duration) at frequencies resulting in ∼85% of maximal force (70-150 Hz at 25-40 °C). NAC did not significantly affect peak force in the unfatigued state at any temperature but significantly slowed tetanic force development in a temperature-dependent fashion (e.g., time to 50% of peak tension averaged 35 ± 2 ms [control] and 37 ± 1 ms [NAC] at 25 °C vs. 21 ± 1 ms [control] and 52 ± 6 ms [NAC, P < 0.01] at 40 °C). During repeated contractions, NAC maximally enhanced peak force by the fifth tetanus at all temperatures (by ∼30%). Thereafter, the effect of NAC disappeared rapidly at high temperatures (35-40 °C) and more slowly at the lower temperatures (25-30 °C). At all temperatures, the enhancing effect of NAC on peak force was associated with a slowing of relaxation. NAC did not significantly affect myosin light chain phosphorylation at rest or after five contractions (∼50% increase vs. rest). After five tetani, lactate and inorganic phosphate increased about 20-fold and 2-fold, respectively, both in control and NAC-treated muscles. Interestingly, after five tetani, the increase in glucose 6-P was ∼2-fold greater, whereas the increase in malate was inhibited by ∼75% with NAC vs. control, illustrating the metabolic effects of NAC. NAC slightly decreased the maximum shortening velocity in early fatigue (five to seven repeated tetani). These data demonstrate that the antioxidant NAC transiently enhances muscle force generation by a mechanism that is independent of changes in myosin light chain phosphorylation and inorganic phosphate. The slowing of relaxation suggests that NAC enhances isometric force by facilitating fusion (i.e., delaying force decline between pulses). The initial slowing of tension development and subsequent slowing of relaxation suggest that NAC would result in impaired performance during a high-intensity dynamic exercise.

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