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Muscle Fibre Types

Muscle fibre types identified by ATPase staining. Myosin binds and hydrolyzes ATP during force generation.

Type I fibres

Red muscles contain predominantly (but not exclusively) red muscle cells. Red muscle fibres are comparatively thin and contain large amounts of myoglobin and mitochondria. Red fibres contain an isoform of myosin with low ATPase activity, i.e. the speed with which myosin is able to use up ATP. Contraction is therefore slow. Red muscles are used when sustained production of force is necessary, e.g. in the control of posture.

Type II fibres

White muscle cells, which are predominantly found in white muscles, are thicker and contain less myoglobin. ATPase activity of the myosin isoform in white fibres is high, and contraction is fast.

  • Type IIA fibres (red) contain many mitochondria and are available for both sustained activity and short-lasting, intense contractions.
  • Type IIB/IIX fibres (white) contain only few mitochondria. They are recruited in the case of rapid accelerations and short lasting maximal contraction. Type IIB/IIX fibres rely on anaerobic glycolysis to generate the ATP needed for contraction.


Fibre Type Type I fibres Type II a fibres Type II x fibres Type II b fibres
Contraction time Slow Moderately Fast Fast Very fast
Size of motor neuron Small Medium Large Very large
Resistance to fatigue High Fairly high Intermediate Low
Activity Used for Aerobic Long-term anaerobic Short-term anaerobic Short-term anaerobic
Maximum duration of use Hours <30 minutes <5 minutes <1 minute
Power produced Low Medium High Very high
Mitochondrial density High High Medium Low
Capillary density High Intermediate Low Low
Oxidative capacity High High Intermediate Low
Glycolytic capacity Low High High High
Major storage fuel Triglycerides Creatine phosphate, glycogen Creatine phosphate, glycogen Creatine phosphate, glycogen
Myosin heavy chain,
human genes
MYH7 MYH2 MYH1 MYH4
Muscle Fibre Type 
Fibre Type Type I fibres Type II a fibres Type II x fibres Type II b fibres
Contraction time Slow Moderately Fast Fast Very fast
Size of motor neuron Small Medium Large Very large
Resistance to fatigue High Fairly high Intermediate Low
Activity Used for Aerobic Long-term anaerobic Short-term anaerobic Short-term anaerobic
Maximum duration of use Hours <30 minutes <5 minutes <1 minute
Power produced Low Medium High Very high
Mitochondrial density High High Medium Low
Capillary density High Intermediate Low Low
Oxidative capacity High High Intermediate Low
Glycolytic capacity Low High High High
Major storage fuel Triglycerides Creatine phosphate, glycogen Creatine phosphate, glycogen Creatine phosphate, glycogen
Myosin heavy chain,
human genes
MYH7 MYH2 MYH1 MYH4
Links: Muscle Development | Muscle Development Timeline


Links: Muscle Development




Links: Histology | Histology Stains | Blue Histology images copyright Lutz Slomianka 1998-2009. The literary and artistic works on the original Blue Histology website may be reproduced, adapted, published and distributed for non-commercial purposes. See also the page Histology Stains.


Cite this page: Hill, M.A. (2018, November 17) Embryology Muscle fiber types.jpg. Retrieved from https://embryology.med.unsw.edu.au/embryology/index.php/File:Muscle_fiber_types.jpg

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© Dr Mark Hill 2018, UNSW Embryology ISBN: 978 0 7334 2609 4 - UNSW CRICOS Provider Code No. 00098G

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