This study aimed to evaluate muscle oxidative function during exercise in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis patients (pALS) with non-invasive methods in order to assess if determinants of reduced exercise tolerance might match ALS clinical heterogeneity. 17 pALS, who were followed for 4 months, were compared with 13 healthy controls (CTRL). Exercise tolerance was assessed by an incremental exercise test on cycle ergometer measuring peak O2 uptake (VO2peak), vastus lateralis oxidative function by near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) and breathing pattern (VEpeak). pALS displayed: (1) 44% lower VO2peak vs. CTRL (p < 0.0001), paralleled by a 43% decreased peak skeletal muscle oxidative function (p < 0.01), with a linear regression between these two variables (r2 = 0.64, p < 0.0001); (2) 46% reduced VEpeak vs. CTRL (p < 0.0001), achieved by using an inefficient breathing pattern (increasing respiratory frequency) from the onset until the end of exercise. Inefficient skeletal muscle O2 function, when flanking the impaired motor units recruitment, is a major determinant of pALS clinical heterogeneity and working capacity exercise tolerance. CPET and NIRS are useful tools for detecting early stages of oxidative deficiency in skeletal muscles, disclosing individual impairments in the O2 transport and utilization chain.
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