1. The functional properties of tibialis anterior muscles of normal adult (C57BL/10) and age-matched dystrophin-deficient (C57BL/10 mdx) mice have been investigated in situ. Comparisons were made between tibialis anterior muscle strength, rates of force development and relaxation, force-frequency responses and fatiguability. Subjecting mdx and C57 muscles to a regimen of eccentric exercise allowed the hypothesis to be tested that dystrophin-deficient muscles are more susceptible to exercise-induced muscle damage.
2. mdx muscles were, on average, 30% stronger than C57 muscles and almost 80% heavier, but both had similar muscle lengths. Thus, although mdx muscles were stronger in absolute terms, their estimated force per unit cross-sectional area was significantly less than that of C57 muscles.
3. The force-frequency relationships of C57 and mdx muscles differed in that whilst, at 40 Hz, the former developed 70% of the force developed at 100 Hz, the latter developed only 55% of the maximal force. Twitch force was normal in mdx muscles, but contraction time was shortened, and the consequent reduction in fusion frequency probably explains the force-frequency differences observed between the two groups.
4. mdx muscles were less fatiguable than normal muscles when stimulated repeatedly at a frequency of 40 Hz. It is possible that the lower relative force at 40 Hz in mdx muscles entailed a lower energy demand and thus a slower rate of fatigue than seen in normal muscles.
5. Eccentrically exercised C57 muscles showed a large loss of maximal force for up to 12 days after exercise. Maximal force loss occurred 3 days after exercise (55% of non-exercised tibialis anterior muscle), which also corresponded with the period of greatest fibre necrosis. C57 muscles showed a significantly reduced 40 Hz/100 Hz force-frequency ratio at 1 and 3 days after exercise. This was primarily due to a reduced twitch amplitude rather than to a change in the time course of the twitch. It is unlikely, therefore, that the altered contractile characteristics of mdx muscle were a result of the presence of damaged but otherwise normal fibres.
6. C57 and mdx tibialis anterior muscles displayed similar degrees of force loss after exercise. Furthermore, the rate of recovery after the nadir of force loss was very similar for the two groups. By 12 days after exercise, force recovered to 76% and 80% of control in C57 and mdx muscles, respectively. Our findings do not support the hypothesis that dystrophin-deficient muscle is more susceptible to exercise-induced muscle damage.