Mechanistic insights into the function of the mitochondrial uncoupling protein in Caenorhabditis elegans
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The prototype uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1) mediates proton leak-dependent thermogenesis in mammals, but the physiological functions of the novel UCP2-5 are unclear. Nematodes only express one uncoupling protein that is most similar to UCP4 in the human brain, which is believed to be the most evolutionarily conserved of the uncoupling proteins. Consistent with reported UCP functions in mammals, we observed that ceUCP4-null nematodes had decreased metabolic rates and increased adiposity compared to wild type. Surprisingly, these phenotypes corresponded to decreased succinate-mediated mitochondrial respiration without apparent changes in mitochondrial uncoupling. ceUCP4-null mitochondria exhibited normal electron transport chain functions, but had a decreased capacity for succinate import. Supporting the functional importance of ceUCP4-dependent complex II regulation in vivo, ceUCP4 deficiency was demonstrated to result in a selectively lethal response to genetic and pharmacological inhibition of Complex I. Similarly, ceUCP4-deficiency significantly prolonged lifespan in the short-lived mev-1 mutant that generates deleterious complex II-derived reactive oxidants. These results define a new physiological function for the ancestral ceUCP4 in the regulation of complex II-mediated oxidative phosphorylation through an unexpected effect on mitochondrial succinate transport. The data described in this dissertation also describe a novel mechanism by which uncoupling proteins mediate mitochondrial bioenergetics.