Mitochondria, isolated from heterotrophic Euglena gracilis , have cyanide-resistant alternative oxidase (AOX) in their respiratory chain. Cells cultured under a variety of oxidative stress conditions (exposure to cyanide, cold, or H2O2) increased the AOX capacity in mitochondria and cells, although it was significant only under cold stress; AOX sensitivity to inhibitors was also increased by cold and cyanide stress. The value of AOX maximal activity reached 50% of total respiration below 20 degrees C, whereas AOX full activity was only 10-30% of total respiration above 20 degrees C. The optimum pH for AOX activity was 6.5 and for the cytochrome pathway was 7.3. GMP, AMP, pyruvate, or DTT did not alter AOX activity. The reduction level of the quinone pool was higher in mitochondria from cold-stressed than from control cells; furthermore, the content of reduced glutathione was lower in cold-stressed cells. Growth in the presence of an AOX inhibitor was not affected in control cells, whereas in cold-stressed cells, growth was diminished by 50%. Cyanide diminished growth in control cells by 50%, but in cold-stressed cells this inhibitor was ineffective. The data suggest that AOX activity is part of the cellular response to oxidative stress in Euglena .