Rats fed dietary fats rich in 20- and 22-carbon polyenoic fatty acids deposit less fat and expend more energy at rest than rats fed other types of fats. We hypothesized that this decrease in energetic efficiency was the product of: (a) enhanced peroxisomal fatty acid oxidation and/or (b) the up-regulation of genes encoding proteins that were involved with enhanced heat production, i.e. mitochondrial uncoupling proteins (UCP-2, UCP-3) and peroxisomal fatty acid oxidation proteins. Two groups of male Fisher 344 rats 3-4 week old (n=5 per group) were pair fed for 6 weeks a diet containing 40% of its energy fat derived from either fish oil or corn oil. Epididymal fat pads from rats fed the fish oil diet weighed 25% (P < 0.05) less than those found in rats fed corn oil. The decrease in fat deposition associated with fish oil ingestion was accompanied by a significant increase in the abundance of skeletal muscle UCP-3 mRNA. The level of UCP-2 mRNA skeletal muscle was unaffected by the type of dietary oil, but the abundance of UCP-2 mRNA in the liver and heart were significantly lower (P < 0.05) in rats fed fish oil than in rats fed corn oil. In addition to inducing UCP-3 expression, dietary fish oil induced peroxisomal acyl-CoA oxidase gene expression 2-3 fold in liver, skeletal muscle and heart. These data support the hypothesis that dietary fish oil reduces fat deposition by increasing the expression of mitochondrial uncoupling proteins and increasing fatty acid oxidation by the less efficient peroxisomal pathway.