Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 167, Issue 8, pp 527–535

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


  • T. M. Williams
    • Department of Biology, Earth and Marine Science Building, A-316, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA, Tel.:+1-408 459-5123, Fax: +1-408 459-4882, e-mail:
  • G. P. Dobson
    • Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, School of Molecular Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia
  • O. Mathieu-Costello
    • Department of Medicine, UCSD, La Jolla, CA 92093-0623, USA
  • D. Morsbach
    • Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Private Bag 13306, Windhoek, Namibia
  • M. B. Worley
    • Center for the Reproduction of Endangered Species, Zoological Society of San Diego, San Diego, CA 92112, USA
  • J. A. Phillips
    • Center for the Reproduction of Endangered Species, Zoological Society of San Diego, San Diego, CA 92112, USA

DOI: 10.1007/s003600050105

Cite this article as:
Williams, T., Dobson, G., Mathieu-Costello, O. et al. J Comp Physiol B (1997) 167: 527. doi:10.1007/s003600050105


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 μmol 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.

Key words CheetahFiber typeMitochondrial volume densitySkeletal muscleSprinting

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1997