The F0 portion of the rat liver mitochondrial ATP synthase (F0F1-ATPase) has been purified by a rapid, high yield procedure. F0 is selectively extracted from inner membrane vesicles with 3-[(3-cholamidopropyl)dimethylammonio]-1-propanesulfonate (CHAPS) after prior treatment of the vesicles with guanidine HCl to remove F1. The resultant F0 is functional in proton translocation assays and separates in sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis into four major and three minor Coomassie-stainable bands, all with apparent molecular masses below 30 kDa. This CHAPS-purified F0 preparation was characterized in detail for its capacity to interact with the unique probe diethylstilbestrol (DES) which, depending on conditions, has been shown to interact with rat liver F0F1 to either inhibit or promote ATP hydrolysis (McEnery, M. W., and Pedersen, P.L. (1986) J. Biol. Chem. 261, 1745-1752). DES-inhibitory sensitivity could be conferred on F1-ATPase activity with the same concentration dependence on F0 as conferral of oligomycin sensitivity. DES was shown also to inhibit the magnitude of valinomycin induced proton influx, while initiating proton efflux in asolectin vesicles reconstituted with F0 and loaded with K+. The potency of DES in producing the latter effects was shown to be highly dependent on hydroxyl groups in "para" positions of the two benzene rings within the DES molecule. Finally, in the absence of F0, DES was shown to act as a catalyst of proton influx in K+-loaded asolectin vesicles upon addition of valinomycin. A model based on the structure of DES is presented to account for both the inhibitory and uncoupling properties of this compound.