, Volume 31, Issue 5, pp 493-506

Mitochondrial Uncoupling: Role of Uncoupling Protein Anion Carriers and Relationship to Thermogenesis and Weight Control “The Benefits of Losing Control”

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Abstract

Uncoupling proteins, a subgroup of the mitochondrial anion transporter superfamily, have beenidentified in prokaryotes, plants, and mammalian cells. Evolutionary conservation of thesemolecules reflects their importance as regulators of two critical mitochondrial functions, i.e.,ATP synthesis and the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Although the amino acidsequences of the three mammalian uncoupling proteins, UCP1, UCP2 and UCP3, are verysimilar, each homolog is the product of a unique gene and important differences have beendemonstrated in their tissue-specific expression and regulation. UCP1 and UCP3 appear to bekey regulators of energy expenditure, and hence, nonshivering thermogenesis, either in brownadipose tissue (UCP1) or skeletal muscle (UCP3). UCP2 is expressed more ubiquitously,although generally at low levels, in many tissues. There is conflicting evidence about itsimportance as a regulator of resting metabolic rate. However, evidence suggests that thishomolog might modulate the mitochondrial generation of ROS in some cell types, includingmacrophages and hepatocytes. While the induction of various uncoupling protein homologsprovides adaptive advantages, both to the organism (e.g., thermogenesis) and to individual cells(e.g., reduced ROS), increased uncoupling protein activity also increases cellular vulnerability tonecrosis by compromising the mitochondrial membrane potential. This narrow “risk—benefit”margin necessitates tight control of uncoupling protein activity in order to preserve cellularviability and much remains to be learned about the regulatory mechanisms involved.