Immunohistochemical fiber typing, ultrastructure, and morphometry of harbor seal skeletal muscle
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There is strong evidence that the skeletal muscles of pinnipeds are adapted for an aerobic, lipid-based metabolism under the hypoxic conditions associated with breath-hold diving. However, regional variations in mitochondrial density are unknown, and the few fiber typing studies performed on pinniped skeletal muscles are not consistent with an aerobic physiological profile. Thus, the objectives of this study were to (1) reexamine the fiber type distribution throughout the primary locomotory muscles of the harbor seal, and (2) to better understand the density and distribution of mitochondria in the locomotory muscles. Multiple samples from transverse sections of the epaxial muscles and a single sample of the pectoralis muscle of wild harbor seals were analyzed using immunohistochemical fiber typing and electron microscopy. Fiber typing results indicated that harbor seal epaxial muscles are composed of 47.4% type I (slow twitch, oxidative) fibers and 52.8%, IIa (fast twitch, oxidative) fibers. No fast twitch, glycolytic (type IIb) fibers were detected in the epaxial muscles or the pectoralis muscle. Mean volume density of mitochondria [Vv(mt,f)] was 5.6%, which is elevated over what would be predicted for a terrestrial mammal of similar mass. The elevated Vv(mt,f) had a high proportion of intermyofibrillar mitochondria, a trait not normally found in the muscles of terrestrial mammals with elevated Vv(mt,f). These results provide further evidence that the elevated mitochondrial volume density in pinniped muscle decreases the oxygen diffusion distance between myoglobin and mitochondria to facilitate aerobic respiration in working muscles. In addition, analyses of heterogeneity revealed that the regions of the epaxial muscles that were located deep within the muscle showed a significantly higher Vv(mt,f) relative to those regions that were superficially-located. In contrast, there was no significant heterogeneity of fiber type detected in either plane of the epaxial muscles. Thus, there was a fine-scale pattern of spatial heterogeneity of Vv(mt,f) within the epaxial muscles that does not manifest in fiber type distribution, indicating that the fibers have similar oxidative capacities.
mitochondrial volume density
Watson, Rebecca Reiko (2003). Immunohistochemical fiber typing, ultrastructure, and morphometry of harbor seal skeletal muscle. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Texas A&M University. Available electronically from