Comparative Exercise Physiology

Research Paper

Muscle fibre type composition in young and racing Swedish cold-blooded trotters

Kristina Karlströma1 c1, Arne Lindholma2, Eje Collindera2 and Birgitta Essén-Gustavssona1

a1 Department of Clinical Sciences, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden

a2 Mälaren Equine Clinic, Sigtuna, Sweden


Fibre type composition of skeletal muscle in horses varies due to factors like breed, age and training. Variations due to these factors in muscle fibre type composition of the Swedish cold-blooded trotter, a heavier and slower breed than the Standardbred trotter, have not previously been reported. The objective of this study was therefore to investigate muscle fibre type composition of young and racing cold-blooded trotters using both histochemical and immunohistochemical methods. Muscle biopsies (gluteus medius) were obtained from 2-year-old (n = 18) and 4–8-year-old horses (n = 6). Four of the 2-year-old horses were sampled again during their 4-year-old season. All of the horses were in professional training and the group included superior racehorses. Fibre types (I, IIA and IIB) were visualized with the myosin ATPase technique. Some samples were also stained immunohistochemically to identify MHCI, MHCIIA and MHCIIX fibres using myosin heavy chain (MHC) antibodies. The oxidative capacity of the fibres was subjectively evaluated from NADH-tetrazolium reductase stains. Type I and type IIA fibres were all identified as MHCI and MHCIIA fibres, respectively, whereas type IIB fibre population included both pure MHCIIX and hybrid MHCIIAX fibres. The older racehorses had a higher proportion of type MHCIIA and a lower proportion of type MHCIIX fibres than the 2-year-old horses. Areas of type I fibres were larger and those of type IIB fibres were smaller in racing horses compared with young horses. The proportion of type MHCIIX fibres that stained medium for oxidative capacity increased with age and training. In conclusion, training and racing induce muscular adaptations in cold-blooded trotters as in other breeds. Furthermore, immunohistochemical methods detect hybrid fibres indicating that transitions of fibre types may occur.

(Received September 25 2008)

(Accepted April 06 2009)


  • cold-blooded trotters;
  • muscle;
  • oxidative capacity;
  • immunohistochemistry;
  • fibre types


c1 Corresponding author: