Rat epididymal-adipose-tissue mitochondria were made selectively permeable to small molecules without the loss of matrix enzymes by treating the mitochondria with toluene under controlled conditions. With this preparation the entire pyruvate dehydrogenase system was shown to be retained within the mitochondrial matrix and to retain its normal catalytic activity. By using dilute suspensions of these permeabilized mitochondria maintained in the cuvette of a spectrophotometer, it was possible to monitor changes of pyruvate dehydrogenase activity continuously while the activities of the interconverting kinase and phosphatase could be independently manipulated. Permeabilized mitochondria were prepared from control and insulin-treated adipose tissue, and the properties of both the pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase and the phosphatase were compared in situ. No difference in kinase activity was detected, but increases in phosphatase activity were observed in permeabilized mitochondria from insulin-treated tissue. Further studies showed that the main effect of insulin treatment was a decrease in the apparent Ka of the phosphatase for Mg2+, in agreement with earlier studies with mitochondria made permeable to Mg2+ by using the ionophore A23187 [Thomas, Diggle & Denton (1986) Biochem. J. 238, 83-91]. No effects of spermine were detected, although spermine diminishes the Ka of purified phosphatase preparations for Mg2+. Since effects of insulin on pyruvate dehydrogenase phosphatase activity are not evident in mitochondrial extracts, it is concluded that insulin may act by altering some high-Mr component which interacts with the pyruvate dehydrogenase system within intact or permeabilized mitochondria, but not when the mitochondrial membranes are disrupted.

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