The effects of idebenone on the swelling of rat brain mitochondria were studied. When FeCl3 was added to a mitochondrial suspension, a pronounced mitochondrial swelling occurred accompanied by the production of lipid peroxide; the two phenomena were closely correlated (r = 0.96, p less than 0.01). Idebenone inhibited the mitochondrial swelling and lipid peroxidation in a concentration-dependent manner; the concentration giving 50% inhibition was 37 microM for swelling and 53 microM for lipid peroxidation. Metabolites of idebenone also inhibited the lipid peroxidation. These results suggest that idebenone stabilizes the mitochondrial membrane by inhibiting lipid peroxidation in brain mitochondria.