The mitochondrial uncoupling proteins UCP2 and UCP3 may be important in attenuating mitochondrial production of reactive oxygen species, in insulin signalling (UCP2), and perhaps in thermogenesis and other processes. To understand their physiological roles, it is necessary to know what reactions they are able to catalyse. We critically examine the evidence for proton transport and anion transport by UCP2 and UCP3. There is good evidence that they increase mitochondrial proton conductance when activated by superoxide, reactive oxygen species derivatives such as hydroxynonenal, and other alkenals or their analogues. However, they do not catalyse proton leak in the absence of such acute activation. They can also catalyse export of fatty acid and other anions, although the relationship of anion transport to proton transport remains controversial.