Mitochondrial Proton Leak Plays a Critical Role in Pathogenesis of Cardiovascular Diseases

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2017;982:359-370. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-55330-6_20.


Mitochondrial proton leak is the principal mechanism that incompletely couples substrate oxygen to ATP generation. This chapter briefly addresses the recent progress made in understanding the role of proton leak in the pathogenesis of cardiovascular diseases. Majority of the proton conductance is mediated by uncoupling proteins (UCPs) located in the mitochondrial inner membrane. It is evident that the proton leak and reactive oxygen species (ROS) generated from electron transport chain (ETC) in mitochondria are linked to each other. Increased ROS production has been shown to induce proton conductance, and in return, increased proton conductance suppresses ROS production, suggesting the existence of a positive feedback loop that protects the biological systems from detrimental effects of augmented oxidative stress. There is mounting evidence attributing to proton leak and uncoupling proteins a crucial role in the pathogenesis of cardiovascular disease. We can surmise the role of "uncoupling" in cardiovascular disorders as follows; First, the magnitude of the proton leak and the mechanism involved in mediating the proton leak determine whether there is a protective effect against ischemia-reperfusion (IR) injury. Second, uncoupling by UCP2 preserves vascular function in diet-induced obese mice as well as in diabetes. Third, etiology determines whether the proton conductance is altered or not during hypertension. And fourth, proton leak regulates ATP synthesis-uncoupled mitochondrial ROS generation, which determines pathological activation of endothelial cells for recruitment of inflammatory cells. Continue effort in improving our understanding in the role of proton leak in the pathogenesis of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases would lead to identification of novel therapeutic targets for treatment.

Keywords: Cardiovascular disease; Gene regulation; Mitochondrial reactive oxygen species; Mitochondrial respiratory chain; Proton leak.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / metabolism*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / pathology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Electron Transport
  • Electron Transport Chain Complex Proteins / metabolism
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial*
  • Mitochondria, Heart / metabolism*
  • Mitochondria, Heart / pathology
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / metabolism*
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / pathology
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Protons
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Electron Transport Chain Complex Proteins
  • Protons
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Adenosine Triphosphate