This paper summarizes the effects of spaceflight on the functional, morphological, and biochemical properties of human and rodent skeletal muscle. The findings suggest that following as little as 5-6 d in space there are deficits in both human and rodent motor capacity, strength, and endurance properties of skeletal muscle. The reduced strength is associated, in part, with a reduction in muscle mass as reflected in smaller cross-sectional areas of both fast- and slow-twitch fibers are more sensitive to the atrophying process. Accompanying the atrophy is a transformation of slow to fast protein phenotype involving myosin heavy chain and sarcoplasmic reticulum protein isoforms. These transformations appear to be regulated, in part, by pretranslational processes. Data on the oxidative capacity of rodent skeletal muscle suggest a bias toward preferential utilization of carbohydrate as the primary substrate. These collective findings suggest that skeletal muscles comprised chiefly of slow fibers are highly dependent on gravity for the normal expression of protein mass and slow phenotype. Future studies need to focus on elucidating the mechanisms associated with the atrophy response, as well as identifying suitable exercise and other countermeasures capable of preserving the structural and functional integrity of skeletal muscle.
Department of Physiology and Biophysics, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA 92717
Submitted for publication February 1995.
Accepted for publication December 1995.
This work was supported in part by NASA Grant NAG2-555.
Address for correspondence: Kenneth M. Baldwin, Ph.D., Dept. of Physiology and Biophysics, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA 92712.