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To better understand disuse muscle atrophy, via magnetic resonance imaging, we sequentially measured muscle cross-sectional area along the entire length of all individual muscles from the hip to ankle in nine male subjects participating in 60-day head-down tilt bed rest (2nd Berlin BedRest Study; BBR2–2). We hypothesized that individual muscles would not atrophy uniformly along their length such that different regions of an individual muscle would atrophy to different extents. This hypothesis was confirmed for the adductor magnus, vasti, lateral hamstrings, medial hamstrings, rectus femoris, medial gastrocnemius, lateral gastrocnemius, tibialis posterior, flexor hallucis longus, flexor digitorum longus, peroneals, and tibialis anterior muscles (P ≤ 0.004). In contrast, the hypothesis was not confirmed in the soleus, adductor brevis, gracilis, pectineus, and extensor digitorum longus muscles (P ≥ 0.20). The extent of atrophy only weakly correlated (r = −0.30, P < 0.001) with the location of greatest cross-sectional area. The rate of atrophy during bed rest also differed between muscles (P < 0.0001) and between some synergists. Most muscles recovered to their baseline size between 14 and 90 days after bed rest, but flexor hallucis longus, flexor digitorum longus, and lateral gastrocnemius required longer than 90 days before recovery occurred. On the basis of findings of differential atrophy between muscles and evidence in the literature, we interpret our findings of intramuscular atrophy to reflect differential disuse of functionally different muscle regions. The current work represents the first lower-limb wide survey of intramuscular differences in disuse atrophy. We conclude that intramuscular differential atrophy occurs in most, but not all, of the muscles of the lower limb during prolonged bed rest.

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