UCP2 and UCP3 are two recently cloned genes with high sequence homology to the gene for uncoupling protein (UCP)-1, which regulates thermogenesis in brown adipose tissue. In the context of the current debate about whether UCP2 and UCP3 in the skeletal muscle may also function as mediators of thermogenesis or as regulators of lipids as fuel substrate, we have examined their mRNA expressions in rat gastrocnemius muscle in response to dietary manipulations known to differentially affect thermogenesis during the phase of weight recovery after starvation. Compared with ad libitum-fed control rats, the refeeding of isocaloric amounts of a low-fat (high-carbohydrate) diet resulted in lower energy expenditure and lower mRNA levels of muscle UCP2 and UCP3. This downregulation of UCP homologs was abolished by the refeeding of a high-fat diet, even though energy expenditure was significantly lower during refeeding on the high-fat than on the low-fat diet. Furthermore, major alterations in the fatty acid composition of the refeeding diet in favor of n-6 polyunsaturated or medium-chain fatty acids resulted in significant increases in energy expenditure, but with no significant changes in the expression of skeletal muscle UCP homologs. Regression analysis of gastrocnemius UCP mRNA levels against parameters that included body composition, energy expenditure, and plasma levels of free fatty acids (FFAs), insulin, and glucose as well as the increase in plasma glucose after a glucose load, revealed that only the latter (an index of insulin resistance) could explain the variability in muscle UCP2 and UCP3 mRNA expressions (r = 0.41, P < 0.02; r = 0.45, P < 0.01, respectively). Taken together, these data are at variance with a role for skeletal muscle UCP2 and UCP3 in dietary regulation (or modulation) of thermogenesis. However, they are consistent with the notion that these UCP homologs may function as regulators of lipids as fuel substrate and raise the possibility that high-fat induced upregulation of muscle UCP2 and UCP3 may be more closely linked to insulin resistance than to changes in circulating FFAs.

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