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Biochemical correlates of fatigue. A brief review.

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Department of Physiology, National Institute of Occupational Health, Oslo, Norway.


Muscle fatigue, defined as a decreased force generating capacity, develops gradually during exercise and is distinct from exhaustion, which occurs when the required force or exercise intensity can no longer be maintained. We have reviewed several biochemical and ionic changes reported to occur in exercising muscle, and analysed the possible effects these changes may have on the electrical and contractile properties of the muscle. There is no evidence that substrate depletion can account for the decreased force generating capacity, but this factor may be important for the rate of energy turnover and be a major determinant for endurance. Increased concentration of inorganic phosphate and hydrogen ions will depress the force generating capacity, but since fatigue can develop gradually without accumulation of these ions they can only be important when aerobic ATP production is insufficient to support the contractions. Evidence is presented showing that a disturbed balance of K+ alone might cause depolarisation block at high stimulation frequencies, but extracellular K+ accumulation does not increase gradually during prolonged dynamic or static exercise, and is therefore not closely related to fatigue. The repeated release of Ca2+ from the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) during muscular activity is suggested of Ca2+ by the mitochondria, increasing with stimulation frequency and duration and possibly also deteriorating mitochondrial function. We therefore speculate that decreased Ca2+ availability for release from SR might contribute to a gradual decline in force generating capacity during all types of exercise.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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