Patients with end-stage renal disease on haemodialysis (HD) have limited work capacity. Many structural and functional alterations in skeletal muscles contribute to this disability. To evaluate the effects of exercise training on uraemic myopathy, seven HD patients (mean age 44.1+/-17.2 years) were studied. Open muscle biopsies were taken from their vastus lateralis muscle before and after a 6-month exercise rehabilitation programme and examined by routine light- and transmission electron-microscopy. Histochemical stainings of frozen sections were performed and morphometric analysis was also applied to estimate the proportion of each fibre type and the muscle fibre area. Spiroergometric and neurophysiological testing and peak extension forces of the lower limbs were measured before and after exercise training. All patients showed impaired exercise capacity, which was associated with marked muscular atrophy (mean area 2548+/-463 microm2) and reduction in muscle strength and nerve conduction velocity. All types of fibres were atrophied, but type II were more affected. The ultrastructural study showed severe degenerative changes in skeletal muscle fibres, mitochondria, and capillaries. Exercise training had an impressive effect on muscular atrophy; in particular the proportion of type II fibres increased by 51% and mean muscle fibre area by 29%. Favourable changes were also seen on the structure and number of capillaries and mitochondria. These results were confirmed by a 48% increase in VO2 peak and a 29% in exercise time, as well as an improvement in the peak muscle strength of the lower limbs and in nerve conduction velocity. Skeletal muscle atrophy in HD patients contribute to their poor exercise tolerance. The application of an exercise training rehabilitation programme improved muscle atrophy markedly, and therefore had beneficial effects in overall work performance.