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The purpose of this investigation was to compare capillarity and fiber type proportions of the vastus lateralis muscle between patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and healthy subjects.Fifteen male subjects were included in the study (8 COPD: 61.0 ± 1.8 years [mean ± SEM]; forced expiratory volume in 1 second 42.0 ± 2.1% predicted; 7 N: age 54.0 ± 1.1). Subjects were submitted to a symptom-limited maximal exercise test on ergocycle. After a transcutaneous biopsy of the vastus lateralis muscle, sections were cut 8 to 10 μm thick and stained with the Andersen method for capillarity and Stevens method for fiber typing.Patients with COPD had a decrease in peak oxygen consumption compared with healthy subjects (1.2 ± 0.1 versus 3.0 ± 0.2 L/min). Number of capillaries per square millimeter was lower in patients with COPD versus healthy subjects (92.6 ± 16.1 and 213.3 ± 33.5, P < 0.001); percentages of fiber types were 43.5 ± 5.5% type I, 56.5 ± 5.5% type II in COPD, and 56.7 ± 3.4% type I, 43.2 ± 3.4% type II in healthy subjects (P < 0.05). In addition, capillaries/fiber ratio was 0.83 ± 0.05 in COPD, and 1.56 ± 0.10 in healthy subjects (P < 0.001).As expected, patients with COPD showed a decrease in exercise capacity. The muscle analysis results indicate that patients with COPD have a greater proportion of type II fibers and a much lower capillaries/fiber ratio than normal subjects. We conclude that COPD adversely affects fiber type and capillarization of the lower limbs. This could be partly caused by deconditioning in these patients.