In previous efforts to characterize sarcoplasmic reticulum function in human muscles, it has not been possible to distinguish the relative contributions of fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers. In this study, we have used light scattering and 45Ca to monitor Ca accumulation by the sarcoplasmic reticulum of isolated, chemically skinned human muscle fibers in the presence and absence of oxalate. Oxalate (5 mM) increased the capacity for Ca accumulation by a factor of 35 and made it possible to assess both rate of Ca uptake and relative sarcoplasmic reticulum volume in individual fibers. At a fixed ionized Ca concentration, the rate and maximal capacity (an index of sarcoplasmic reticulum volume) both varied over a wide range, but fibers fell into two distinct groups (fast and slow). Between the two groups, there was a 2- to 2.5-fold difference in oxalate-supported Ca uptake rates, but no difference in average sarcoplasmic reticulum volumes. Intrinsic differences in sarcoplasmic reticulum function (Vmax, K0.5, and n) were sought to account for the distinction between fast and slow groups. In both groups, rate of Ca accumulation increased sigmoidally as [Ca++] was increased from 0.1 to 1 microM. Apparent affinities for Ca++ (K0.5) were similar in the two groups, but slow fibers had a lower Vmax and larger n values. Slow fibers also differed from fast fibers in responding with enhanced Ca uptake upon addition of cyclic AMP (10(-6) M, alone or with protein kinase). Acceleration by cyclic AMP was adequate to account for adrenaline-induced increases in relaxation rates previously observed in human muscles containing mixtures in fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers.

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