Thermogenic activity in brown adipose tissue (BAT) decreases during lactation; the down-regulation of the gene encoding uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1) is involved in this process. Our studies show that UCP2 mRNA expression does not change during the breeding cycle in mice. In contrast, UCP3 mRNA is down-regulated in lactation but it recovers after weaning, in parallel with UCP1 mRNA. This leads to a decrease in the content of UCP3 in BAT mitochondria during lactation. Lowering the energy-sparing necessities of lactating dams by decreasing litter size or feeding with a high-fat diet prevented the down-regulation of UCP1 mRNA and UCP3 mRNA. In most cases this resulted in a less marked decrease in UCP1 and UCP3 protein in BAT mitochondria owing to lactation. Fasting for 24h caused a different response in UCP1 and UCP3 mRNA expression: it decreased UCP1 mRNA levels but had no effect on UCP3 mRNA abundance in virgin mice; it even increased UCP3 mRNA expression in lactating dams. These changes did not lead to modifications in UCP1 or UCP3 protein abundance. Whereas acute treatment with peroxisome-proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR)α and PPARγ agonists increased UCP1 mRNA levels only in lactating dams, UCP3 mRNA expression was induced by both kinds of PPAR activator in lactating dams and by PPARα agonists in virgin mice. It is concluded that modifications of UCP2 mRNA levels are not part of the physiological adaptations taking place in BAT during lactation. In contrast, the down-regulation of UCP3 mRNA expression and mitochondrial UCP3 content is consistent with a role for the gene encoding UCP3 in the decrease in metabolic fuel oxidation and thermogenesis in BAT during lactation.

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