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Relationships between muscle mitochondrial DNA content, mitochondrial enzyme activity and oxidative capacity in man: alterations with disease

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European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Muscle mitochondrial content is tightly regulated, and requires the expression of both nuclear and mitochondrial genes. In addition, muscle mitochondrial content is a major determinant of aerobic exercise capacity in healthy subjects. The current study was designed to test the hypothesis that in healthy humans, muscle mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) content is correlated with citrate synthase activity (a representative nuclear-encoded mitochondrial enzyme) and aerobic exercise capacity as defined by whole-body peak oxygen consumption (O2). Furthermore, it was postulated that these relationships might be altered with disease. Twelve healthy and five paraplegic subjects underwent exercise testing and vastus lateralis muscle biopsy sampling. An additional ten healthy subjects and eight patients with unilateral peripheral arterial disease (PAD) underwent exercise testing and gastrocnemius muscle biopsy sampling. Citrate synthase activity and mtDNA content were positively correlated in the vastus lateralis muscles from the healthy subjects. This relationship was similar in muscle from paraplegic subjects. mtDNA content was positively correlated with peak O2 in the healthy subjects and in the paraplegic subjects in whom peak O2 had been elicited by functional electrical stimulation of the muscle. In contrast, the PAD subjects demonstrated higher mtDNA contents than would have been predicted based on their claudication-limited peak O2. Thus, in healthy humans there are strong relationships between muscle mtDNA content and both muscle citrate synthase activity and peak O2. These relationships are consistent with coordinant nuclear DNA and mtDNA expression, and with mitochondrial content being a determinant of aerobic exercise capacity. The relationships seen in healthy humans are quantitatively similar in paraplegic patients, but not in patients with PAD, a disease which is associated with a metabolic myopathy. The relationships between mtDNA content, mitochondrial enzyme activities and exercise capacity provide insight into the physiologic and pathophysiologic regulation of muscle mitochondrial expression.

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Accepted: 19 January 1999

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Wang, H., Hiatt, W., Barstow, T. et al. Relationships between muscle mitochondrial DNA content, mitochondrial enzyme activity and oxidative capacity in man: alterations with disease. Eur J Appl Physiol 80, 22–27 (1999).

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