Type I and IIa diaphragm muscle (DIAm) fibers comprise slow and fast fatigue-resistant motor units that are recruited to accomplish breathing and thus have a high duty cycle. In contrast, type IIx/IIb fibers comprise more fatigable fast motor units that are infrequently recruited for airway protective and straining behaviors. We hypothesize that mitochondrial structure and function in type I and IIa DIAm fibers adapt in response to inactivity imposed by spinal cord hemisection at C2 (C2SH). At 14 days after C2SH, the effect of inactivity on mitochondrial structure and function was assessed in DIAm fibers. Mitochondria in DIAm fibers were labeled using MitoTracker Green (Thermo Fisher Scientific), imaged in three-dimensions (3-D) by fluorescence confocal microscopy, and images were analyzed for mitochondrial volume density (MVD) and complexity. DIAm homogenate from either side was assessed for PGC1a, Parkin, MFN2, and DRP1 using Western blot. In alternate serial sections of the same DIAm fibers, the maximum velocity of the succinate dehydrogenase reaction (SDHmax) was determined using a quantitative histochemical technique. In all groups and both sides of the DIAm, type I and IIa DIAm fibers exhibited higher MVD, with more filamentous mitochondria and had higher SDHmax normalized to both fiber volume and mitochondrial volume compared with type IIx/IIb Diam fibers. In the inactive right side of the DIAm, mitochondria became fragmented and MVD decreased in all fiber types compared with the intact side and sham controls, consistent with the observed reduction in PGC1a and increased Parkin and DRP1 expression. In the inactive side of the DIAm, the reduction in SDHmax was found only for type I and IIa fibers. These results show that there are intrinsic fiber-type-dependent differences in the structure and function of mitochondria in DIAm fibers. Following C2SH-induced inactivity, mitochondrial structure (MVD and fragmentation) and function (SDHmax) were altered, indicating that inactivity influences all DIAm fiber types, but inactivity disproportionately affected SDHmax in the more intrinsically active type I and IIa fibers. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Two weeks of diaphragm (DIAm) inactivity imposed by C2SH caused reduced mitochondrial volume density, mitochondrial fragmentation, and a concomitant reduction of SDHmax in type I and IIa DIAm fibers on the lesioned side. Type I and IIa DIAm fibers were far more sensitive to inactivation than type IIx/IIb fibers, which exhibited little pathology. Our results indicate that mitochondria in DIAm fibers are plastic in response to varying levels of activity.
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