The recently identified uncoupling protein-3 (UCP-3) gene, predicted to encode a new member of the family of uncoupling proteins, is preferentially expressed in skeletal muscle and has been related to phenotypes of obesity and type 2 diabetes. We have established that during mouse ontogeny, the expression of the UCP-3 gene is switched on in skeletal muscle just after birth. The induction of UCP-3 gene expression is dependent on the initiation of suckling and particularly on lipid intake. Treatment of newborn mice with activators of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs), such as clofibrate, bezafibrate, or (4-chloro-6-(2,3-xylidine)-pirimidinylthio)acetic acid (WY 14,643), mimics the action of food intake on UCP-3 gene expression. The specific ligand of PPAR-alpha WY 14,643 induces UCP-3 gene expression in a time- and dose-dependent manner, whereas the thiazolidinedione BRL 49653, specific for PPAR-gamma, has no effect. These treatments act without altering circulating free fatty acids. During development, skeletal muscle expresses constitutive levels of PPAR-delta mRNA, whereas expression of the PPAR-gamma gene is undetectable. PPAR-alpha gene expression is developmentally regulated in muscle as it is first expressed at birth, just before UCP-3 gene induction occurs. The induction of UCP-3 gene expression by WY 14,643 is impaired in skeletal muscle of premature neonates, which do not express PPAR-alpha. It is proposed that the UCP-3 gene is predominantly regulated in neonatal muscle by PPAR-alpha activation.

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