Chronic reduction of gravitational load in the rear limbs of rats to simulate the influence of near-zero gravity in skeletal muscles has been shown previously to elicit atrophy in the soleus muscle. Use of this model by the present investigation indicates that soleus atrophy was characterized by a decline in the number of fibers in groups that contained the slow isoenzyme of myosin and which were classified as type I from intensity of staining to myofibrillar actomyosin adenosinetriphosphatase (ATPase) and to NADH tetrazolium reductase. Furthermore total fiber number was not changed, whereas fibers containing the intermediate isoenzyme and those classified as type IIa increased. There results could be explained by either a change in the composition within existing fibers or a simultaneous loss of slow fibers and de novo synthesis of intermediate and fast fibers. Evidence for transformation included an absence of embryonic or neonatal myosin in muscles from suspended rats and the constant fiber number that was unchanged by 4 wk of suspension. Furthermore although fiber areas of both groups of type I and IIa fibers declined during suspension, variability of the fiber areas within each group did not increase.
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