The aims of this study were (1) to determine the relationship between muscle fibre cross-sectional area and cytoplasmic density of myonuclei in high- and low-oxidative Xenopus muscle fibres and (2) to test whether insulin and long-term high fibre length caused an increase in the number of myonuclei and in the expression of α-skeletal actin and of myogenic regulatory factors (myogenin and MyoD) in these muscle fibres. In high- and low-oxidative muscle fibres from freshly frozen iliofibularis muscles, the number of myonuclei per millimetre fibre length was proportional to muscle fibre cross-sectional area. The in vivo myonuclear density thus seemed to be strictly regulated, suggesting that the induction of hypertrophy required the activation of satellite cells. The effects of muscle fibre length and insulin on myonuclear density and myonuclear mRNA content were investigated on high-oxidative single muscle fibres cultured for 4-5 days. Muscle fibres were kept at a low length (∼15% below passive slack length) in culture medium with a high insulin concentration (∼6 nmol/l: "high insulin medium") or without insulin, and at a high length (∼5% above passive slack length) in high insulin medium. High fibre length and high insulin medium did not change the myonuclear density of isolated muscle fibres during culture. High insulin increased the myonuclear α-skeletal actin mRNA content, whereas fibre length had no effect on α-skeletal actin mRNA content. After culture at high fibre length in high insulin medium, the myonuclear myogenin mRNA content was 2.5-fold higher than that of fibres cultured at low length in high insulin medium or in medium without insulin. Myonuclear MyoD mRNA content was not affected by fibre length or insulin. These in vitro experiments indicate that high muscle fibre length and insulin enhance muscle gene expression but that other critical factors are required to induce adaptation of muscle fibre size and performance. © 2006 Springer-Verlag.