Mitochondria regulate critical components of cellular function via ATP production, reactive oxygen species production, Ca(2+) handling and apoptotic signaling. Two classical methods exist to study mitochondrial function of skeletal muscles: isolated mitochondria and permeabilized myofibers. Whereas mitochondrial isolation removes a portion of the mitochondria from their cellular environment, myofiber permeabilization preserves mitochondrial morphology and functional interactions with other intracellular components. Despite this, isolated mitochondria remain the most commonly used method to infer in vivo mitochondrial function. In this study, we directly compared measures of several key aspects of mitochondrial function in both isolated mitochondria and permeabilized myofibers of rat gastrocnemius muscle. Here we show that mitochondrial isolation i) induced fragmented organelle morphology; ii) dramatically sensitized the permeability transition pore sensitivity to a Ca(2+) challenge; iii) differentially altered mitochondrial respiration depending upon the respiratory conditions; and iv) dramatically increased H(2)O(2) production. These alterations are qualitatively similar to the changes in mitochondrial structure and function observed in vivo after cellular stress-induced mitochondrial fragmentation, but are generally of much greater magnitude. Furthermore, mitochondrial isolation markedly altered electron transport chain protein stoichiometry. Collectively, our results demonstrate that isolated mitochondria possess functional characteristics that differ fundamentally from those of intact mitochondria in permeabilized myofibers. Our work and that of others underscores the importance of studying mitochondrial function in tissue preparations where mitochondrial structure is preserved and all mitochondria are represented.