1. A group of male Sprague-Dawley rats (5-6 weeks old) was cold-acclimated at 4 degrees C for 4 weeks. Warm-acclimated controls remained at 24 degrees C. Total protein content of brown adipose tissue (BAT) increased more than 3-fold and total uncoupling protein (UCP) content increased more than 6-fold upon cold-acclimation. The concentration of UCP in isolated BAT mitochondria almost doubled. 2. Specific ATPase activity of the non-thermogenic BAT mitochondria (from warm-acclimated controls) was low and increased about 6-fold on addition of 1 microM-Ca2+, which raised free Ca2+ levels (measured by Fura-2) in the incubation media from 1.32 +/- 0.28 microM (mean +/- S.E.M.) to 2.29 +/- 0.39 microM [at which the Ca(2+)-binding ATPase-inhibitor protein (CaBI) is inactivated]. Correspondingly, the specific ATP synthetase activity of the non-thermogenic BAT mitochondria was high and was decreased by 74% by addition of 1 microM-Ca2+. 3. In contrast, specific ATPase activity of thermogenic BAT mitochondria (from cold-acclimated rats) was 5 times that of the control group, and addition of Ca2+ had only a small stimulatory response. Correspondingly, the specific ATP synthetase activity of the thermogenic BAT mitochondria was low, and the decrease by Ca2+ was small, albeit significant. 4. Extracts of BAT mitochondria from both groups of animals contained significant amounts of the ATPase-inhibitor protein of Pullman and Monroy (PMI) as well as of CaBI, as shown by gel electrophoresis. Kinetic studies of inhibition of mitochondrial ATPase activity showed that PMI activity was unaltered in extracts from the thermogenic BAT mitochondria, whereas CaBI activity was slightly but significantly increased. 5. The presence of active ATPase-inhibitor proteins in BAT mitochondria was shown for the first time. We conclude that uncoupling of oxidative phosphorylation occurs in thermogenic BAT mitochondria, even in the presence of the ATPase-inhibitor proteins.

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