1. By means of ultrasound scanning, bilateral measurements of the cross-sectional area of the quadriceps muscle group were made in 14 young adults with unilateral thigh muscle wasting after knee injury. Needle biopsy specimens from the lateral mass of the muscle were used to estimate the myofibre cross-sectional area for both quadriceps of each subject.
2. The cross-sectional area of the quadriceps of each patient's injured limb was always smaller than that of the contralateral muscle. The wasting was largely localized to the quadriceps, with relative sparing of the other thigh muscles.
3. None of the biopsies showed any abnormality apart from a reduction in fibre size. In each case, the injured limb's reduced quadriceps cross-sectional area was associated with a reduced mean fibre area.
4. The ratio of the cross-sectional area of a muscle to its mean fibre area is a function of the number of fibres it contains. The ratio varied considerably from patient to patient but there was close agreement between the values obtained for the two limbs of each patient.
5. The quadriceps wasting produced by knee injury was due to muscle fibre atrophy. There was no evidence for a change in the number of fibres in the muscle.