Effect of fatty acids on energy coupling processes in mitochondria

Biochim Biophys Acta. 1993 Nov 2;1183(1):41-57. doi: 10.1016/0005-2728(93)90004-y.


Long-chain fatty acids are natural uncouplers of oxidative phosphorylation in mitochondria. The protonophoric mechanism of this action is due to transbilayer movement of undissociated fatty acid in one direction and the passage of its anion in the opposite direction. The transfer of the dissociated form of fatty acid can be, at least in some kinds of mitochondrion, facilitated by adenine nucleotide translocase. Apart from dissipating the electrochemical proton gradient, long-chain fatty acids decrease the activity of the respiratory chain by mechanism(s) not fully understood. In intact cells and tissues fatty acids operate mostly as excellent respiratory substrates, providing electrons to the respiratory chain. This function masks their potential uncoupling effect which becomes apparent only under special physiological or pathological conditions characterized by unusual fatty acid accumulation. Short- and medium-chain fatty acids do not have protonophoric properties. Nevertheless, they contribute to energy dissipation because of slow intramitochondrial hydrolysis of their activation products, acyl-AMP and acyl-CoA. Long-chain fatty acids increase permeability of mitochondrial membranes to alkali metal cations. This is due to their ionophoric mechanism of action. Regulatory function of fatty acids with respect to specific cation channels has been postulated for the plasma membrane of muscle cells, but not demonstrated in mitochondria. Under cold stress, cold acclimation and arousal from hibernation the uncoupling effect of fatty acids may contribute to increased thermogenesis, especially in the muscle tissue. In brown adipose tissue, the special thermogenic organ of mammals, long-chain fatty acids promote operation of the unique natural uncoupling protein, thermogenin. As anionic amphiphiles, long-chain fatty acids increase the negative surface charge of biomembranes, thus interfering in their enzymic and transporting functions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Ion Channels
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Mitochondrial Proteins
  • Muscles / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Uncoupling Agents / metabolism*
  • Uncoupling Protein 1


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Fatty Acids
  • Ion Channels
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Mitochondrial Proteins
  • Uncoupling Agents
  • Uncoupling Protein 1