Reflex, mechanical and histochemical adaptations of the soleus muscle following 3 weeks of hindlimb suspension (HS) were measured in the rat. HS transformed the soleus muscle fibre type composition from predominantly slow, type I, to approximately equal proportions of fast, type II and slow fibres. Consistent with this transformation was an increase in the maximum shortening velocity, V(max), and a decrease in the stiffness of the series elastic component. Disuse also produced muscle atrophy and a resultant decrease in twitch and tetanic force. Reflex responses of the ankle extensors were also obtained at 5 and 9 weeks of age for six control rats (C group) and six rats subjected to HS for 3 weeks (HS group). The soleus reflexes to a mechanical tap applied to the Achilles tendon (T reflex) and to an electrical stimulation of the sciatic nerve (H reflex) were measured. The maximal amplitude of these reflexes (T(max) and H(max)) were normalised to the maximal direct motor response (M(max)) and the T(max)/H(max) ratio was also calculated to give an index of the relative adaptations of the peripheral and central components of the reflex pathway. The HS group showed significantly higher H reflex gains than the C group, possibly due to changes in synaptic efficiency after HS. Conversely, the HS group presented strongly inhibited T reflexes and negative gains for the T(max)/H(max) ratios. This result indicated a reduced spindle solicitation after HS, which may reflect changes in the spindle sensitivity itself, but it could also be due to the decrease in stiffness of the musculo-tendinous elements in series with the muscle spindles. Such mechanical changes may play an important part in the decreased T reflex responses.
- © 1999 by Company of Biologists