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J Comp Physiol B. 1997 Nov;167(8):527-35.

Skeletal muscle histology and biochemistry of an elite sprinter, the African cheetah.

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Department of Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz 95064, USA.


To establish a skeletal muscle profile for elite sprinters, we obtained muscle biopsy samples from the vastus lateralis, gastrocnemius and soleus of African cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus). Muscle ultrastructure was characterized by the fiber type composition and mitochondrial volume density of each sample. Maximum enzyme activity, myoglobin content and mixed fiber metabolite content were used to assess the major biochemical pathways. The results demonstrate a preponderance of fast-twitch fibers in the locomotor muscles of cheetahs; 83% of the total number of fibers examined in the vastus lateralis and nearly 61% of the gastrocnemius were comprised of fast-twitch fibers. The total mitochondrial volume density of the limb muscles ranged from 2.0 to 3.9% for two wild cheetahs. Enzyme activities reflected the sprinting capability of the cheetah. Maximum activities for pyruvate kinase and lactate dehydrogenase in the vastus lateralis were 1519.00 +/- 203.60 and 1929.25 +/- 482.35 mumol min-1.g wet wt-1, respectively, and indicated a high capacity for glycolysis. This study demonstrates that the locomotor muscles of cheetahs are poised for anaerobically based exercise. Fiber type composition, mitochondrial content and glycolytic enzyme capacities in the locomotor muscles of these sprinting cats are at the extreme range of values for other sprinters bred or trained for this activity including greyhounds, thoroughbred horses and elite human athletes.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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