Capillary density and respiratory function in the external intercostal muscle

M. A. Jiménez-Fuentes, J. Gea, M. C. Aguar, J. Minguella, J. Lloreta, Miquel Félez, Joan Broquetas

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15 Citations (Scopus)


Changes in lung function have been related to adaptive structural modifications in respiratory muscles. OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the capillary density (Dcap) of the external intercostal muscle in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and its possible relation to respiratory function. METHODS: Forty-two individuals (61 ± 9 years old) underwent conventional lung function testing and evaluation of respiratory muscles (maximum pressures at rest and a tolerance test using Martyn's technique). The sample included 10 subjects with normal lung function and 32 COPD patients (FEV1 between 13 and 78% of reference), in stable phase and with no respiratory insufficiency (PaO2 > 60 mmHg). A local biopsy of the external intercostal muscle was taken from all subjects at the fifth intercostal space (anterior axile) on the non-dominant side. The sample was processed for morphometry and fiber typing with ATPase staining and for quantifying capillarity with Gomori's trichrome staining. RESULTS: The mean diameter was 61 ±10 μm, with type I fibers predominating (56 ± 11%). Dcap was 2.8 ± 0.6 capillaries/fiber (equivalent to 1.02 ± 0.37 capillaries/mm2 of fibrillary surface). The number of capillaries/fiber was significantly higher in patients with severe COPD (FEV1, < 50% ref) than in controls (3.0 ± 0.6 versus 23 ± 0.5, p < 0.01) and was inversely related to FEV1 (r = -0.395, p < 0.01). Muscle capillarity was unrelated to other function variables, including markers of respiratory muscle function and gas exchange. CONCLUSION: The structural remodelling of external intercostal muscles in COPD patients also includes an increase in density of interfibrillary capillaries. This increase is proportional to the severity of obstruction and probably reflects an adaptive phenomenon.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)471-476
JournalArchivos de Bronconeumologia
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1999


  • Adaptation
  • Blood vessels
  • Respiratory muscles


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