Usnic acid (UA), a secondary lichen metabolite, has long been popular as one of natural fat-burning dietary supplements. Similar to 2,4-dinitrophenol, the weight-loss effect of UA is assumed to be associated with its protonophoric uncoupling activity. Recently, we have shown that the ability of UA to shuttle protons across both mitochondrial and artificial membranes is strongly modulated by the presence of calcium ions in the medium. Here, by using fluorescent probes, we studied the calcium-transporting capacity of usnic acid in a variety of membrane systems comprising liposomes, isolated rat liver mitochondria, erythrocytes and rat basophilic leukemia cell culture (RBL2H3). At concentrations of tens of micromoles, UA appeared to be able to carry calcium ions across membranes in all the systems studied. Similar to the calcium ionophore A23187, UA caused degranulation of RBL-2H3 cells. Therefore, UA, being a protonophoric uncoupler of oxidative phosphorylation, at higher concentrations manifests itself as a calcium ionophore, which could be relevant to its overdose toxicity in humans and also its phytotoxicity.
Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier B.V.