The proton-transport activity of UCP1 (uncoupling protein 1) triggers mitochondrial uncoupling and thermogenesis. The exact role of its close homologues, UCP2 and UCP3, is unclear. Mounting evidence associates them with the control of mitochondrial superoxide production. Using CHO (Chinese-hamster ovary) cells stably expressing UCP3 or UCP1, we found no evidence for respiration uncoupling. The explanation lies in the absence of an appropriate activator of UCP protonophoric function. Accordingly, the addition of retinoic acid uncouples the respiration of the UCP1-expressing clone, but not that of the UCP3-expressing ones. In a glucose-containing medium, the extent of the hyperpolarization of mitochondria by oligomycin was close to 22 mV in the five UCP3-expressing clones, contrasting with the variable values observed with the 15 controls. Our observations suggest that, when glycolysis and mitochondria generate ATP, and in the absence of appropriate activators of proton transport, UCPs do not transport protons (uncoupling), but rather other ions of physiological relevance that control mitochondrial activity. A model is proposed using the known passive transport of pyruvate by UCP1.

You do not currently have access to this content.