Normal to enhanced intrinsic mitochondrial respiration in skeletal muscle of middle- to older-aged women and men with uncomplicated type 1 diabetes Academic Article uri icon

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  • Aims/hypothesis

    This study interrogated mitochondrial respiratory function and content in skeletal muscle biopsies of healthy adults between 30 and 72 years old with and without uncomplicated type 1 diabetes.


    Participants (12 women/nine men) with type 1 diabetes (48 ± 11 years of age), without overt complications, were matched for age, sex, BMI and level of physical activity to participants without diabetes (control participants) (49 ± 12 years of age). Participants underwent a Bergström biopsy of the vastus lateralis to assess mitochondrial respiratory function using high-resolution respirometry and citrate synthase activity. Electron microscopy was used to quantify mitochondrial content and cristae (pixel) density.


    Mean mitochondrial area density was 27% lower (p = 0.006) in participants with type 1 diabetes compared with control participants. This was largely due to smaller mitochondrial fragments in women with type 1 diabetes (-18%, p = 0.057), as opposed to a decrease in the total number of mitochondrial fragments in men with diabetes (-28%, p = 0.130). Mitochondrial respiratory measures, whether estimated per milligram of tissue (i.e. mass-specific) or normalised to area density (i.e. intrinsic mitochondrial function), differed between cohorts, and demonstrated sexual dimorphism. Mass-specific mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) capacity with the substrates for complex I and complex II (CI + II) was significantly lower (-24%, p = 0.033) in women with type 1 diabetes compared with control participants, whereas mass-specific OXPHOS capacities with substrates for complex I only (pyruvate [CI pyr] or glutamate [CI glu]) or complex II only (succinate [CII succ]) were not different (p > 0.404). No statistical differences (p > 0.397) were found in mass-specific OXPHOS capacity in men with type 1 diabetes compared with control participants despite a 42% non-significant increase in CI glu OXPHOS capacity (p = 0.218). In contrast, intrinsic CI + II OXPHOS capacity was not different in women with type 1 diabetes (+5%, p = 0.378), whereas in men with type 1 diabetes it was 25% higher (p = 0.163) compared with control participants. Men with type 1 diabetes also demonstrated higher intrinsic OXPHOS capacity for CI pyr (+50%, p = 0.159), CI glu (+88%, p = 0.033) and CII succ (+28%, p = 0.123), as well as higher intrinsic respiratory rates with low (more physiological) concentrations of either ADP, pyruvate, glutamate or succinate (p < 0.012). Women with type 1 diabetes had higher (p < 0.003) intrinsic respiratory rates with low concentrations of succinate only. Calculated aerobic fitness (Physical Working Capacity Test [PWC130]) showed a strong relationship with mitochondrial respiratory function and content in the type 1 diabetes cohort.


    In middle- to older-aged adults with uncomplicated type 1 diabetes, we conclude that skeletal muscle mitochondria differentially adapt to type 1 diabetes and demonstrate sexual dimorphism. Importantly, these cellular alterations were significantly associated with our metric of aerobic fitness (PWC130) and preceded notable impairments in skeletal mass and strength.

publication date

  • November 2021

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