Individuals born preterm show reduced exercise capacity and increased risk for pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases, but the impact of preterm birth on skeletal muscle, an inherently critical part of cardiorespiratory fitness, remains unknown. We evaluated the impacts of preterm birth-related conditions on the development, growth, and function of skeletal muscle using a recognized preclinical rodent model in which newborn rats are exposed to 80% oxygen from days 3 to 10 of life. We analyzed different hindlimb muscles of male and female rats at 10 days (neonatal), 4 weeks (juvenile), and 16 weeks (young adults). Neonatal high oxygen exposure increased the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and the signs of inflammation in skeletal muscles, which was associated with muscle fiber atrophy, fiber type shifting (reduced proportion of type I slow fibers and increased proportion of type IIb fast-fatigable fibers), and impairment in muscle function. These effects were maintained until adulthood. Fast-twitch muscles were more vulnerable to the effects of hyperoxia than slow-twitch muscles. Male rats, which expressed lower antioxidant defenses, were more susceptible than females to oxygen-induced myopathy. Overall, preterm birth-related conditions have long-lasting effects on the composition, morphology, and function of skeletal muscles; and these effects are sex-specific. Oxygen-induced changes in skeletal muscles could contribute to the reduced exercise capacity and to increased risk of diseases of preterm born individuals.

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