The effect of cold exposure on thermogenic parameters such as mitochondrial protein content, GDP-binding and uncoupling protein (UCP) levels in different mitochondrial fractions from rat brown adipose tissue has been investigated. Rats were exposed from 12 h to 5 days at 4 degrees C, and three mitochondrial fractions were isolated by differential centrifugation: the M1 fraction (1000 g), the M3 fraction (3000 g) and the M15 fraction (15,000 g). Cytochrome c oxidase activity as an index of mitochondrial mass showed an increase during cold exposure. During the first 24 h of cold exposure UCP was incorporated specifically into the M3 and M15 mitochondrial fractions, and thereafter UCP appeared in the heaviest M1 fraction. However, specific GDP binding was increased during the first 24 h in the same way in all subpopulations, and this increase continued up to 72 h of cold exposure. Results suggest that different molecular events are involved during acute and chronic adaptation to cold: during the first 24 h of cold acclimatization, thermogenic activity is increased by an unmasking process of the UCP binding sites in the M1 mitochondrial fraction as UCP levels were constant and GDP binding increased, but in the M3 and M15 fraction the increase in thermogenic activity was completely due to an increase in GDP binding induced by a specific incorporation of UCP targeted to these mitochondria. Thus thermogenic parameters change in a different way in the brown-fat mitochondrial subpopulations during cold acclimatization.
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