We have sought to elucidate how the oligomycin sensitivity-conferring protein (OSCP) of the mitochondrial F(1)F(0)-ATP synthase (mtATPase) can influence proton channel function. Variants of OSCP, from the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, having amino acid substitutions at a strictly conserved residue (Gly166) were expressed in place of normal OSCP. Cells expressing the OSCP variants were able to grow on nonfermentable substrates, albeit with some increase in generation time. Moreover, these strains exhibited increased sensitivity to oligomycin, suggestive of modification in functional interactions between the F(1) and F(0) sectors mediated by OSCP. Bioenergetic analysis of mitochondria from cells expressing OSCP variants indicated an increased respiratory rate under conditions of no net ATP synthesis. Using specific inhibitors of mtATPase, in conjunction with measurement of changes in mitochondrial transmembrane potential, it was revealed that this increased respiratory rate was a result of increased proton flux through the F(0) sector. This proton conductance, which is not coupled to phosphorylation, is exquisitely sensitive to inhibition by oligomycin. Nevertheless, the oxidative phosphorylation capacity of these mitochondria from cells expressing OSCP variants was no different to that of the control. These results suggest that the incorporation of OSCP variants into functional ATP synthase complexes can display effects in the control of proton flux through the F(0) sector, most likely mediated through altered protein-protein contacts within the enzyme complex. This conclusion is supported by data indicating impaired stability of solubilized mtATPase complexes that is not, however, reflected in the assembly of functional enzyme complexes in vivo. Given a location for OSCP atop the F(1)-alpha(3)beta(3) hexamer that is distant from the proton channel, then the modulation of proton flux by OSCP must occur "at a distance." We consider how subtle conformational changes in OSCP may be transmitted to F(0).