How the Brain May Have Shaped Muscle Anatomy and Physiology: A Preliminary Study

Magdalena N. Muchlinski, Holden W. Hemingway, Juan Pastor, Kailey M. Omstead, Anne M. Burrows

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Skeletal muscle fibers are often used to evaluate functional differences in locomotion. However, because there are energetic differences among muscle fiber cells, muscle fiber composition could be used to address evolutionary questions about energetics. Skeletal muscle is composed of two main types of fibers: Type I and II. The difference between the two can be reduced to how these muscle cells use oxygen and glucose. Type I fibers convert glucose to ATP using oxygen, while Type II fibers rely primarily on anaerobic metabolic processes. The expensive tissue hypothesis (ETH) proposes that the energetic demands imposed on the body by the brain result in a reduction in other expensive tissues (e.g., gastrointestinal tract). The original ETH dismisses the energetic demands of skeletal muscle, despite skeletal muscle being (1) an expensive tissue when active and (2) in direct competition for glucose with the brain. Based on these observations we hypothesize that larger brained primates will have relatively less muscle mass and a decrease in Type I fibers. As part of a larger study to test this hypothesis, we present data from 10 species of primates. We collected body mass, muscle mass, and biopsied four muscles from each specimen for histological procedures. We collected endocranial volumes from the literature. Using immunohistochemistry, a muscle fiber composition profile was created for each species sampled. Results show that larger brained primates have less muscle and fewer Type I fibers than primates with smaller brains. Results clarify the relationship between muscle mass and brain mass and illustrate how muscle mass could be used to address energetic questions. Anat Rec, 301:528–537, 2018.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)528-537
Number of pages10
JournalAnatomical Record
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Type I muscle fibers
  • energetics
  • expensive tissue hypothesis
  • primate evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biotechnology
  • Anatomy
  • Histology


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