1-methyl-4-phenylpyridine (MPP+), a major metabolite of the neurotoxin, 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,5,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) inhibited the ADP-stimulated and uncoupled oxidation of NADH-linked substrates by brain mitochondrial preparations. MPTP itself was ineffective. The apparent Ki's for MPP+ inhibition of pyruvate or glutamate oxidation by purified rat brain mitochondria were approximately 300 and 400 microM, respectively; with mouse brain mitochondria the values were lower, 60 and 150 microM, respectively. Succinate oxidation was unaffected by either compound. Compromise of mitochondrial oxidative capacity by MPP+ could be an important factor in mechanisms underlying the toxicity of MPTP.