1. Most patients recovering from critical illness experience enhanced fatiguability. Previously we have shown that zymosan-induced critical illness in rats is attended by a decreased mitochondrial content (maximal aerobic capacity) in skeletal muscle. We investigated whether this decrease results in an increased reduction in high-energy phosphates and a subsequent loss of contractility during in situ electrical stimulation in rats recovering from zymosan treatment.

2. Plantar-flexor muscles of the hindlimb were electrically stimulated via the innervating nerve to develop maximal isometric tetanic contraction.

3. Decreased concentrations of ATP were measured in gastrocnemius muscle of zymosan-treated rats, both at rest and after stimulation, in comparison with ad libitum-fed and pair-fed control rats. However, no differences in the stimulation-induced decreases in high-energy phosphate levels and changes in other metabolites, except ADP, were observed between the groups. Tension development in the zymosan-treated rats was, however, about 85% less compared with the pair-fed controls during the whole stimulation period.

4. We conclude that the primary cause of the loss of muscle tension in zymosan-treated rats is an insensitivity of skeletal muscle to stimulation via the nerve. An additional derangement in ATP production is, however, indicated by the comparable decreases in energy substrates during development of a dramatically lower tension.

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