Distribution patterns of fibre types in the triceps surae muscle group of chimpanzees and orangutans.

JP Myatt, N Schilling, Susannah Thorpe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

23 Citations (Scopus)


Different locomotor and postural demands are met partly due to the varying properties and proportions of the muscle fibre types within the skeletal muscles. Such data are therefore important in understanding the subtle relationships between morphology, function and behaviour. The triceps surae muscle group is of particular interest when studying our closest living relatives, the non-human great apes, as they lack a significant external Achilles tendon, crucial to running locomotion in humans and other cursorial species. The aim of this study, therefore, was to determine the proportions of type I (slow) and type II (fast) fibres throughout these muscles in chimpanzees and orangutans using immunohistochemistry. The orangutan had a higher proportion of type I fibres in all muscles compared with the chimpanzees, related to their slower, more controlled movements in their arboreal habitat. The higher proportion of type II fibres in the chimpanzees likely reflects a compromise between their need for controlled mobility when arboreal, and greater speed and power when terrestrial. Overall, the proportion of slow fibres was greater in the soleus muscle compared with the gastrocnemius muscles, and there was some evidence of proximal to distal and medial to lateral variations within some muscles. This study has shown that not only do orangutans and chimpanzees have very different muscle fibre populations that reflect their locomotor repertoires, but it also shows how the proportion of fibre types provides an additional mechanism by which the performance of a muscle can be modulated to suit the needs of a species.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)402-12
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2011


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