Uncoupling proteins (UCPs) are mitochondrial proteins that play a role in regulation of energy expenditure by uncoupling respiration from ATP synthesis. Lactation is a physiological condition characterized by negative energy balance due to the loss of energy sources to the production of milk. The objective of the current study was to investigate whether UCP mRNA and protein expressions were altered during lactation compared with those after 48 h of fasting. Lactation significantly reduced serum leptin levels, and removal of pups for 48 h increased serum leptin to higher levels than those observed in control rats. Compared with control rats, mRNA expression of UCP1 and UCP3 in brown adipose tissue (BAT) was dramatically reduced during lactation and fasting. The reduction in mRNAs was reflected by a lowered UCP1 protein level, and to some extent, UCP3 protein. Treatment of lactating rats with exogenous leptin (3 mg/kg) or removal of pups for 48 h completely reversed the down-regulation of UCP1 and UCP3 mRNA expression in BAT, and pup removal led to a recovery of protein expression. In contrast to BAT, UCP3 expression in skeletal muscle was increased in fasted rats and decreased during lactation. Similar changes were observed in serum free fatty acid levels. These changes are consistent with the idea that the utilization of free fatty acids as a fuel source is spared during lactation. As in BAT, leptin treatment and removal of pups were able to restore changes in mRNA expression of UCP3 in skeletal muscle during lactation. The present results suggest that the inhibition of leptin secretion during lactation is involved in the down-regulation of UCP expression in BAT and skeletal muscle, which, in turn, is responsible for the decrease in metabolic fuel oxidation and thermogenesis.
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