An energetically significant leak of protons occurs across the mitochondrial inner membranes of eukaryotic cells. This seemingly wasteful proton leak accounts for at least 20% of the standard metabolic rate of a rat. There is evidence that it makes a similar contribution to standard metabolic rate in a lizard. Proton conductance of the mitochondrial inner membrane can be considered as having two components: a basal component present in all mitochondria, and an augmentative component, which may occur in tissues of mammals and perhaps of some other animals. The uncoupling protein of brown adipose tissue, UCP1, is a clear example of such an augmentative component. The newly discovered UCP1 homologs, UCP2, UCP3, and brain mitochondrial carrier protein 1 (BMCP1) may participate in the augmentative component of proton leak. However, they do not appear to catalyze the basal leak, as this is observed in mitochondria from cells which apparently lack these proteins. Whereas UCP1 plays an important role in thermogenesis, the evidence that UCP2 and UCP3 do likewise remains equivocal.