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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Genomic characterization of the European sea bass Dicentrarchus labrax reveals the presence of a novel uncoupling protein (UCP) gene family member in the teleost fish lineage

Mbaye Tine1*, Heiner Kuhl1, Martin Jastroch2 and Richard Reinhardt3

Author affiliations

1 Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, Ihnestresse 63-73, 14195, Berlin, Germany

2 Helmholtz Zentrum Munich, German Research Center for Environmental Health (GmbH) Ingolstädter, Landstr. 1, Munich, Germany

3 Genome Centre Cologne at MPI for Plant Breeding Research, Carl-von-Linné-Weg 10, 50829, Cologne, Germany

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2012, 12:62  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-12-62

Published: 11 May 2012



Uncoupling proteins (UCP) are evolutionary conserved mitochondrial carriers that control energy metabolism and therefore play important roles in several physiological processes such as thermogenesis, regulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), growth control, lipid metabolism and regulation of insulin secretion. Despite their importance in various physiological processes, their molecular function remains controversial. The evolution and phylogenetic distribution may assist to identify their general biological function and structure-function relationships. The exact number of uncoupling protein genes in the fish genome and their evolution is unresolved.


Here we report the first characterisation of UCP gene family members in sea bass, Dicentrarchus labrax, and then retrace the evolution of the protein family in vertebrates. Four UCP genes that are shared by five other fish species were identified in sea bass genome. Phylogenetic reconstitution among vertebrate species and synteny analysis revealed that UCP1, UCP2 and UCP3 evolved from duplication events that occurred in the common ancestor of vertebrates, whereas the novel fourth UCP originated specifically in the teleost lineage. Functional divergence analysis among teleost species revealed specific amino acid positions that have been subjected to altered functional constraints after duplications.


This work provides the first unambiguous evidence for the presence of a fourth UCP gene in teleost fish genome and brings new insights into the evolutionary history of the gene family. Our results suggest functional divergence among paralogues which might result from long-term and differential selective pressures, and therefore, provide the indication that UCP genes may have diverse physiological functions in teleost fishes. Further experimental analysis of the critical amino acids identified here may provide valuable information on the physiological functions of UCP genes.