Evidence has been presented that mitochondria contain ATP sensitive potassium channels (mK-ATP channels), which may confer tissue protection upon activation. It is, however, not known whether activation of mK-ATP channels has a direct effect on mitochondrial ATP production. This study was performed to define the effect of pinacidil (PIN) on ATP production by oxidative phosphorylation in isolated cardiomyocyte or pancreatic beta-cell mitochondria. Cardiomyocyte mitochondria produced seven times more ATP than beta-cell mitochondria in the presence of pyruvate/malate. PIN inhibited pyruvate/malate-induced mitochondrial ATP production with half maximal effect at 360 microM in both cell types. The inclusion of 5-hydroxydecanoate (5-HD) did not prevent this inhibition. Succinate induced a similar ATP production in cardiomyocyte or beta-cell mitochondria. In beta-cell mitochondria succinate-induced ATP production was inhibited by PIN with half maximal effects at 500 microM PIN. However, in cardiomyocyte mitochondria PIN stimulated succinate-induced ATP production 3-fold with half maximal effect at 100 microM and maximal effect at 200 microM. This PIN-dependent stimulation was mimicked by rotenone. The inclusion of 5-HD could not prevent these PIN effects. In conclusion, PIN may inhibit complex 1 of the respiratory chain without indications of opening mK-ATP channels. In cardiomyocytes with metabolically inhibited succinate dehydrogenase this results in a stimulation of ATP production conferring tissue protection. In beta-cells without a metabolically inhibited succinate dehydrogenase, there is no stimulation by PIN and tissue protection by PIN is not to be expected.