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Obesity is simply understood as an imbalance between energy intake and expenditure in favor of weight accretion. However, the human biological interface between food consumption and energy dissipation results in broad individual differences in eating behavior, physical activity, and efficiency of fuel storage and metabolism. In particular, the basal metabolic rate, which accounts for the greatest portion of overall energy expenditure, can vary almost twofold among individuals. Classically, three major biochemical systems are believed to contribute to basal thermogenesis: futile cycles, Na+/K+ATPase activity, and mitochondrial proton leak. The latter is the most important quantitative contributor and can explain up to 50% of the basal metabolic rate (1). The molecular basis of mitochondrial proton leak is unclear, despite its importance in the understanding of energy balance and its potential as a therapeutic target for obesity treatment. The article by Hesselink and colleagues in this issue of the JCI (2) addresses whether uncoupling protein 3 contributes to mitochondrial proton leak in human skeletal muscle.


Article written by researcher from Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Medical Genetics and Department of Medicine, Medical University of South Carolina, and the Ralph H. Johnson Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, February 2005, volume 111, number 4, pages 438-441. Includes references and color diagram. Related article appears on page 479 of same volume.