A comparative investigation of the mammalian diaphragm has revealed a correlation between certain cytological aspects of red and white muscle fibers and functional activity. This skeletal muscle presents the advantage of a similar and constant function among the mammals, but its functional activity varies in a quantitative manner. Both the rate of breathing (and hence the rate of contraction of the diaphragm) and metabolic activity are known to be inversely related to body size; and this study has demonstrated a relationship between cytological characteristics of the diaphragm and body size of the animal. Small fibers rich in mitochondria (red fibers) are characteristic of small mammals, which have high metabolic activity and fast breathing rates; and large fibers with relatively low mitochondrial content predominate in large mammals, which have lower metabolic activity and slower breathing rates. In mammals with body size intermediate between these two groups (including the laboratory rat), the diaphragm consists of varying mixtures of fiber types. In general, the mitochondrial content of diaphragm fibers is inversely related to body size. It appears, then, that the red fiber reflects a high degree of metabolic activity or a relatively high rate of contraction within the range exhibited by this muscle.

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