The mitochondrial permeability transition (mPT) is considered to be an important mediator of apoptosis and necrosis, and is specifically blocked by cyclosporin A (CsA). CsA has been shown to exert a potent neuroprotective action in vivo when allowed to cross the blood-brain barrier in various animal models of acute neurological insults and neurodegenerative disease. The neuroprotective effect of CsA is considered to be mediated through specific inhibition of the mitochondrial permeability transition pore (mPTP) and through inhibition of neuronal calcineurin activity. Characterization of mPT has mainly been performed in liver and heart mitochondria, and some brain studies have reported a decreased inhibitory effect of CsA and questioned the importance of mPT in brain-derived mitochondria. We have used the de-energized model of swelling to examine the mPT in brain-derived non-synaptosomal mitochondria. Ca(2+)-induced swelling was evaluated by electron microscopy and by measurement of spectrophotometric alterations in light scattering. Permeability transition was readily induced in a majority of the mitochondria at a wide range of Ca(2+) levels and was powerfully inhibited by CsA with a half-maximal effect at approximately 23 nM CsA. The swelling kinetics and CsA effects were comparable to previous findings in de-energized liver and heart mitochondria. Careful characterization of mPT and CsA effects in brain-derived mitochondria is the first step in evaluating newly developed CsA analogues capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier and preferentially entering the brain. The importance of CsA causing a shift of the mitochondrial sensitivity to Ca(2+) in neurological disorders is discussed.