The role of cardiolipin in mitochondrial function was studied by comparing the energy-transforming and osmotic properties of mitochondria isolated from the Saccharomyces cerevisiae cardiolipin synthase-null mutant crd1Δ, which has no cardiolipin, and the isogenic wild type. The results indicated that the importance of cardiolipin for energetic coupling strongly depends on the rate of oxidative phosphorylation, which was set by using NADH (maximal rate limited by coupling mechanism) or ethanol (moderate rate limited by electron supply) as a respiratory substrate, or by modulating the steady-state rate of NADH supply. The absence of cardiolipin resulted in only a small effect on oxidative phosphorylation proceeding at a moderate rate, but led to significant uncoupling (decreased ADP/O and increased state 4 respiration) at the maximal rate of respiration. This indicates that cardiolipin prevents rate-dependent uncoupling in the energy-transforming apparatus. This role of cardiolipin may derive from its strong interaction with, and modulation of the function of, respiratory complexes, and from its effects on the physical properties of the membrane. The importance of cardiolipin for mitochondrial osmotic properties was determined by comparing oxidative phosphorylation, release of matrix enzyme, shrinking ability and volume dynamics upon hypotonically induced swelling in crd1Δ and wild-type mitochondria. Opening of the yeast mitochondrial unspecific channel (YMUC) in the wild-type and mutant mitochondria was also tested. It was found that the lack of cardiolipin strongly undermines the osmotic stability of the mitochondrial membrane.

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