Through autografting experiments on 9-g rectus femoris (RFM) muscles in rabbits, we substantiated a previous observation that the maximum isometric tetanic force (Po) and specific Po (N/cm2) of neurovascular-intact grafts are not different from grafts made with neurovascular repair. We then tested the hypotheses that the specific Po of vascularized grafts is significantly less than that of control RFM muscles and the deficit in the specific Po is associated with increases in connective tissue and interstitial space. The specific Po of the grafts was 65% of the value for control RFM muscles. Connective tissue protein concentration of grafts was 3.8 times greater than the control value of 16.6 +/- 3 micrograms/mg wet mass, but this only accounted for a 5% correction in specific Po. The volume of interstitial space did not differ between grafts and control muscles. We conclude that the deficit of 35% in specific Po of vascularized grafts compared with control values is partially explained by an increase in connective tissue, but a 30% unresolved deficit remains.