Uncouplers of oxidative phosphorylation

Environ Health Perspect. 1990 Jul;87:213-8. doi: 10.1289/ehp.9087213.


Uncouplers of oxidative phosphorylation in mitochondria inhibit the coupling between the electron transport and phosphorylation reactions and thus inhibit ATP synthesis without affecting the respiratory chain and ATP synthase (H(+)-ATPase). Miscellaneous compounds are known to be uncouplers, but weakly acidic uncouplers are representative because they show very potent activities. The most potent uncouplers discovered so far are the hindered phenol SF 6847, and hydrophobic salicylanilide S-13, which are active in vitro at concentrations in the 10 nM range. For induction of uncoupling, an acid dissociable group, bulky hydrophobic moiety and strong electron-withdrawing group are required. Weakly acidic uncouplers are considered to produce uncoupling by their protonophoric action in the H(+)-impermeable mitochondrial membrane. For exerting these effects, the stability of the respective uncoupler anions in the hydrophobic membrane is very important. High stability is achieved by delocalization of the polar ionic charge through uncoupler (chemical)-specific mechanisms. Such an action of weakly acidic uncouplers is characteristic of the highly efficient membrane targeting action of a nonsite-specific type of bioactive compound.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acids / pharmacology
  • Adenosine Triphosphate / biosynthesis
  • Electron Transport / drug effects
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Intracellular Membranes / drug effects
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / ultrastructure
  • Molecular Structure
  • Oxidative Phosphorylation / drug effects*
  • Protons
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Uncoupling Agents / chemistry
  • Uncoupling Agents / pharmacology*


  • Acids
  • Protons
  • Uncoupling Agents
  • Adenosine Triphosphate