1. The ATP production rate in isolated skeletal muscle mitochondria was measured with a bioluminescence method, before and during erythropoietin treatment, in 21 anaemic haemodialysis patients. In addition, the concentrations of ATP, phosphocreatine and total creatine and the ratio of alkali-soluble protein to DNA were determined in skeletal muscle. Maximal oxygen uptake and maximal exercise capacity were determined on a bicycle ergometer.
2. The results unexpectedly showed a 35% higher mitochondrial ATP production rate in the patients before erythropoietin treatment than in sedentary control subjects. On the other hand, mitochondrial density, as measured by the activity of the matrix enzyme glutamate dehydrogenase, was the same in the patients as in the sedentary control group. After 1 year on maintenance erythropoietin treatment, the ATP production rate per kg of muscle decreased in five out of seven patients and reached the same level as in the sedentary control subjects. The ratio between ATP production rate and glutamate dehydrogenase activity was on average 40% higher in the patients at the start and decreased towards the control level in six out of seven patients after 1 year on maintenance erythropoietin treatment. When related to the mitochondrial protein content, a significant reduction in the ATP production rate was observed.
3. The ratio of alkali-soluble protein to DNA in skeletal muscle and the concentrations of ATP, phosphocreatine and total creatine in skeletal muscle at rest were normal in the patients and did not change during the study. The maximal aerobic power improved by 25% after the correction of anaemia.
4. These results suggest that the enhanced mitochondrial ATP production rate in renal anaemia is a metabolic adaptation to decreased oxygen transport and is reversed by long-term correction of anaemia.