The objective of this study was to evaluate some of the mechanisms by which norepinephrine (NE) and insulin may influence protein degradation in mouse brown adipocytes differentiated in cultures. The effects of NE and insulin, alone or in combination, on three factors known to influence proteolysis (maintenance of cell ATP and 1-phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI 3-kinase) and p70 ribosomal S6-kinase (p70 S6K) activities) were examined. It was proposed that NE affects proteolysis indirectly by decreasing cell ATP from activation of uncoupling protein-1 (UCP1)-dependent mitochondrial respiration. This was tested by comparing the effects of NE and fatty acids (which directly activate UCP1) on proteolysis in brown adipocytes, as well as in pre-adipocytes and 3T3-L1 adipocytes, which do not express UCP1. An inhibitory effect of insulin on proteolysis is observed in both pre-adipocytes and differentiated cells, whereas NE and exogenously added fatty acids inhibit proteolysis only in brown adipocytes. There is a linear relationship between reductions in cell ATP and proteolysis in response to increasing concentrations of NE or fatty acids. PI 3-kinase activity is required for proteolysis, because two selective inhibitors (wortmannin and LY294002) reduce proteolysis in both pre-adipocytes and differentiated cells. This effect is not additive to that of NE, which suggests they affect the same proteolytic pathway. In contrast to NE, insulin increases PI 3-kinase activity and phosphorylation of p70 S6K. Rapamycin, which prevented insulin-dependent increase in phosphorylation of p70 S6K, increases proteolysis in brown adipocytes and antagonizes the inhibitory effect of insulin on proteolysis, but not the inhibitory effect of NE. Thus, insulin inhibits proteolysis via rapamycin-sensitive activation of p70 S6K, whereas the effect of NE appears largely to be a function of decreasing cell ATP content.