Murine muscles lacking both mitochondrial (Mi-CK) and cytoplasmic (MM-CK) creatine kinase (CK-/-) show depressed mechanical performance in association with low muscle ATP and enhanced IMP content. The aims of the present study were to elucidate the possible role of low ATP and high IMP content in impairment of mechanical performance in CK-/- mice and to establish whether CK-/- muscles are able to sustain repeated series of high-intensity contractions. The dorsal flexors of CK-/- and control mice were subjected in situ to two series of 12 tetanic contractions using a custom-made mouse isometric dynamometer. The muscle content of high-energy phosphates was analysed by HPLC. ATP content declined from 20.6 +/-1.9 to 15.5 +/-2.4 mu mol g(-1) dry weight (d.w.); IMP content increased from 1.2 +/-0.4 to 2.4 +/-1.1 mu mol g(-1) d.w. during the first contraction series in CK-/- muscle. Despite these unfavourable changes, maximal torque developed during the first contraction of either series did not differ, indicating that the altered content of ATP and IMP does not play a decisive role in impaired mechanical performance in CK-/- mice. The relative decline in torque during the two series did not differ in CK-/- (-20.4 +/-6.6 vs. -23.8 +/-9.9%). In contrast. wild-type (WT) muscles showed a significantly more pronounced decline during the second series (-12.3 +/-7.4 vs. -20.1 +/-6.8%). Muscle ATP and IMP content did not change in CK-/-, whereas in WT IMP content increased significantly during the second contraction series. These findings indicate that CK-/- tolerate repeated series of high-intensity contractions better than WT, while in CK-/- muscle an additional source of energy is mobilised to regenerate ATP during the second series.