DNP: A mitochondrial “uncoupler”

Ella Parry died after buying 2,4-DNP on the internet

Broadcaster: ITV 1

Year: 2015

Genre: News, Factual


This 5 minute piece from the ITV news describes the tragic death of a student. Eloise Parry took slimming pills she had bought on the internet. Unfortunately the tablets in question contained 2,4-dinitrophenol (sometimes called “DNP”). DNP is a mitochondrial uncoupler; it is capable of inhibiting mitochondrial ATP synthesis without inhibiting any specific factor within the electron transport chain (ETC). It appear to do so by binding protons directly and, due to it being lipid soluble, simply carries them across the membrane, causing collapse of the proton motive force.

DNP was investigated as a slimming pill in the 1930s, but was banned for human consumption for exactly the reasons highlighted by this tragedy. Sadly Eloise’s death is not an isolated event; there have been previous UK deaths linked to DNP in the recent past (see this NHS Choices article for details).

As well as serving as a warning to students who might be tempted to try these pills, this incident might also fit illustrate the importance of maintaining the PMF in the context of a biochemistry lecture on mitochondria and the ETC. For more details see these pages at Rice University on mitochondrial poisons and this Wikipedia entry.

There is also a two minute BBC News version of this story (this link) and a second, longer interview with Eloise’s mum on the Victoria Derbyshire show via this link.

The story also received further coverage at the time of the inquest into Eloise’s death (see this clip)


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