Estimation of capillary density in human skeletal muscle based on maximal oxygen consumption rates

B. J. McGuire, T. W. Secomb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


A previously developed Kroghtype theoretical model was used to estimate capillary density in human skeletal muscle based on published measurements of oxygen consumption, arterial partial pressure of oxygen, and blood flow during maximal exercise. The model assumes that oxygen consumption in maximal exercise is limited by the ability of capillaries to deliver oxygen to tissue and is therefore strongly dependent on capillary density, defined as the number of capillaries per unit cross-sectional area of muscle. Based on an analysis of oxygen transport processes occurring at the microvascular level, the model allows estimation of the minimum number of straight, evenly spaced capillaries required to achieve a given oxygen consumption rate. Estimated capillary density values were determined from measurements of maximal oxygen consumption during knee extensor exercise and during whole body cycling, and they range from 459 to 1,468 capillaries/mm2. Measured capillary densities, obtained with either histochemical staining techniques or electron microscopy on quadriceps muscle biopsies from healthy subjects, are generally lower, ranging from 123 to 515 capillaries/mm2. This discrepancy is partly accounted for by the fact that capillary density decreases with muscle contraction and muscle biopsy samples typically are strongly contracted. The results imply that estimates of maximal oxygen transport rates based on capillary density values obtained from biopsy samples do not fully reflect the oxygen transport capacity of the capillaries in skeletal muscle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H2382-H2391
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number6 54-6
StatePublished - Dec 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Krogh cylinder model
  • Oxygen transport
  • Quadriceps muscle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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