Journal of Applied Physiology


Biopsies from the vastus lateralis muscle were obtained from three astronauts before and after two 5-day flights and from five astronauts before and after one 11-day flight (space shuttle flights: STS-32, -33, and -34). Muscle fibers from two separate samples from each biopsy were classified as type I and II or as type I, IIA, and IIB by using qualitative myofibrillar adenosinetriphosphatase (ATPase) staining. Cross-sectional area (CSA), number of capillaries per fiber, and the activities of succinate dehydrogenase (SDH), alpha-glycerophosphate dehydrogenase (GPD), and myofibrillar ATPase were determined from one sample of fibers of each myofibrillar ATPase type. Postflight biopsies had 6–8% fewer type I fibers than preflight. Mean fiber CSAs were 16–36% smaller after the 11-day flight with the relative effect being type IIB > IIA > I. Mean fiber CSAs were 11 and 24% smaller in type I and II fibers after 5 days of flight. Myofibrillar ATPase activities increased in type II but not in type I fibers after flight, whereas SDH activity was unaffected in either fast or slow fibers. GPD activity in type I fibers was approximately 80% higher (P > 0.05) postflight compared with preflight. Myofibrillar ATPase/SDH ratios in type II fibers were higher after than before flight, suggesting that some fast fibers were more susceptible to fatigue after flight. The GPD/SDH ratios were elevated in some type I fibers after spaceflight. The number of capillaries per fiber was 24% lower after than before flight, whereas the number of capillaries per unit CSA of muscle tissue was unchanged. These data suggest that adaptations in the size, metabolic properties, and vascularity of muscle fibers can occur rapidly in the space environment. These adaptations were qualitatively similar to those observed in animals after actual or simulated spaceflight conditions for short periods.