The brown adipose tissue (BAT) thermogenic response to diet-induced obesity and cold has been found to be gender dependent. In the present work, we aimed to investigate the effects of the main physiological male and female sex hormones, i.e. testosterone, progesterone and 17-beta-estradiol, on the expression of uncoupling protein I (UCP1)--the main mediator of BAT thermogenesis--and on UCP2 and lipid accumulation in rodent brown adipocytes differentiated in culture. Testosterone-treated cells showed fewer and smaller lipid droplets than control cells and a dose-dependent inhibition of UCP1 mRNA expression, under adrenergic stimulation by norepinephrine (NE). These effects were reverted by the androgen receptor antagonist flutamide, suggesting they are dependent, at least in part, on the androgen receptor. Progesterone- and 17-beta-estradiol-treated cells showed more and larger lipid droplets and progesterone stimulated NE-induced UCP1 mRNA expression at the lower concentration tested, but not at higher concentrations, suggesting that for brown adipocytes, this hormone is dose dependent. 17-beta-Estradiol did not have any remarkable effect either on UCP1 or UCP2 mRNA expression. Interestingly, the specific progesterone receptor antagonist RU486 induced UCP1 and UCP2 mRNAs, including UCP1 mRNA expression in non-NE-treated brown adipocytes, suggesting a profound effect of this antiprogestagen on brown adipocyte thermogenic capacity. Thus, are conclude that testosterone, 17-beta-estradiol, progesterone and RU486 have distinct actions on brown adipocytes, thus modulating UCP1 and UCP2 mRNA expression and/or lipid accumulation, and that sex hormones are factors that may explain in part the gender-dependent BAT thermogenic response.