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Exp Physiol. 1995 Jul;80(4):497-527.

Muscle cell function during prolonged activity: cellular mechanisms of fatigue.

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Department of Physiology, University of Sydney, NSW, Australia.


Muscle performance declines during prolonged and intense activity; important components are a reduction in force production and shortening velocity and a prolongation of relaxation. In this review we consider how the changes in metabolites (particularly H+, inorganic phosphate (Pi), ATP and ADP) and changes in sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ release lead to the observed changes in force, shortening velocity and relaxation. The reduced force is caused by a combination of reduced maximum force-generating capacity, reduced myofibrillar Ca2+ sensitivity and reduced Ca2+ release. The reduced maximum force and Ca2+ sensitivity are largely explained by the effects of H+ and Pi that have been observed in skinned fibres. At least three different forms of reduced Ca2+ release can be recognized but the mechanisms involved are incompletely understood. The reduced shortening velocity can be partly explained by the effects of H+ that have been observed in skinned fibres. In addition it is proposed that ADP, which depresses shortening velocity, increases during contractions to a level that is considerably higher than existing measurements suggest. Changes in Ca2+ release are probably unimportant for the reduced shortening velocity. The prolongation of relaxation can arise both from slowing of the rate of decline of myoplasmic calcium concentration and from slowing of cross-bridge detachment rates. A method of analysis which separates these components is described. The increase in H+ and the other metabolite changes during fatigue can independently affect both components. Finally we show that reduced force, shortening velocity and slowed relaxation all contribute to the decline in muscle performance during a working cycle in which the muscle first shortens actively and then is stretched passively by an antagonist muscle.

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