The presence of heme-containing catalase in rat heart mitochondria (20 +/- 5 units/mg) was demonstrated by biochemical and immunocytochemical analysis. Intact rat heart mitochondria efficiently consumed exogenously added H2O2. The rate of H2O2 consumption was not influenced by succinate, glutamate/malate, or N-ethylmaleimide but was significantly inhibited by cyanide. Hydrogen peroxide decomposition by mitochondria yielded molecular oxygen in a 2:1 stoichiometry, consistent with a catalytic mechanism. Mitochondrial fractionation studies and quantitative electron microscopic immunocytochemistry revealed that most catalase was matrix-associated. Electrophoretic analysis and Western blotting of the mitochondrial matrix fraction indicated the presence of a protein with similar electrophoretic mobility to bovine and rat liver catalase and immunoreactive to anti-catalase antibody. Myocardial tissue has a lower catalase-specific activity and a greater mitochondrial H2O2 production/g of tissue than most organs. Thus catalase, representing 0.025% of heart mitochondrial protein, is important for detoxifying mitochondrial derived H2O2 and represents a key antioxidant defense mechanism for myocardial tissue.