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To compare the muscle morphology in hypertensive subjects with that in controls and to test the hypothesis of a relation between heart rate, development of hypertension and muscle morphology that is independent of glucose intolerance.We studied 43 glucose-tolerant, untreated hypertensive subjects and 113 healthy controls in a longitudinal cohort of 70-year-old men. Metabolic status (oral glucose tolerance test and euglycemic, hyperinsulinaemic clamp test), muscle fibre distribution (myosin ATPase staining) and capillary supply (amylase-PAS method) were evaluated. Blood pressure and heart rate data were available from both ages 50 and 70 years.Hypertensive subjects had a significantly smaller mean number of capillaries per fibre than controls (1.53 versus 1.64; P = 0.04). In hypertensive subjects, the proportions of type I and type II fibres were correlated to mean arterial pressure (r = −0.56 and r = 0.52, respectively, P <0.05 for both). The increase in mean arterial pressure over 20 years was closely correlated to capillary density in mm2 (r = −0.62; P <0.0001). Capillary supply was inversely related to resting heart rate both at ages 50 and 70 years.Skeletal muscle of glucose tolerant hypertensive subjects showed a lower capillary supply than that of controls. This capillary rarefaction was correlated to increase in mean arterial pressure over two decades and to supine heart rate. This is compatible with the suggestion that higher sympathetic drive might generate structural alterations in muscle capillarization.