Both abnormalities in high energy phosphate metabolism and a decreased oxidative enzyme capacity have been reported in skeletal muscle of stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients, The first aim of this study was to investigate whether these findings are present in anterior tibialis muscle and whether or not they are associated. Abnormalities in mitochondrial structure and function as well as signs of myopathy have been found during corticosteroid treatment. The second aim of this study therefore, was to investigate whether in COPD patients prolonged use of low dose prednisolone has effects on muscle energy metabolism and qualitative morphology. In a cross-sectional study 15 COPD patients (forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) 33+/-9 (mean+/-SD) % predicted) who were steroid-naive (CORT-) were compared with 10 healthy control subjects (HC) and with 14 COPD patients (FEV1 30+/-11 % pred), who had been using oral prednisolone for at least 1 yr (CORT+), It was found that adenosine triphosphate (ATP)/adenosine diphosphate was lower in CORT- compared to HC (5.7 versus 6.2, p=0.03), Inosine monophosphate was detected in 13 of 15 CORT- compared to 3 of 10 HC (p=0.004). However, although indications were found for an imbalance in production and utilization of ATP, comparing CORT- and HC, no differences in oxidative (citrate synthase and 3-hydroxy-acyl-coenzyme me A dehydrogenase) and glycolytic (hexokinase, lactate dehydrogenase and phosphofructokinase) enzyme capacities were found. When, comparing steroid-treated and steroid-naive patient subgroups, no differences in the above mentioned parameters of muscle energy metabolism and of muscle qualitative morphology were found.