The coupling of oxygen consumption to ADP phosphorylation is incomplete, as is particularly evident in brown adipocyte mitochondria which use a regulated uncoupling mechanism to dissipate heat produced by substrate oxidation. In brown adipose tissue, uncoupling is effected by a specific protein in the inner mitochondrial membrane referred to as uncoupling protein-1 (UCP1). UCP1 gene disruption in mice has confirmed UCP1's role in cold-induced thermogenesis. Genetic analysis of human cohorts has suggested that UCP1 plays a minor role in the control of fat content and body weight. The recent cloning of UCP2 and UCP3, two homologues of UCP1, has boosted research on the importance of respiration control in metabolic processes, metabolic diseases and energy balance. UCP2 is widely expressed in different organs whereas UCP3 is mainly present in skeletal muscle. The chromosomal localization of UCP2 as well as UCP2 mRNA induction by a lipid-rich diet in obesity-resistant mice suggested that UCP2 is involved in diet-induced thermogenesis. A strong linkage between markers in the vicinity of human UCP2 and UCP3 (which are adjacent genes) and resting metabolic rate was calculated. UCPs are known or supposed to participate in basal and regulatory thermogenesis, but their exact biochemical and physiological functions have yet to be elucidated. UCPs may constitute novel targets in the development of drugs designed to modulate substrate oxidation. However, very recent data suggest an important role for the UCPs in the control of production of free radicals by mitochondria, and in response to oxidants.