We demonstrate here that complex I-III of bovine heart mitochondrial membrane is inhibited by adriamycin derivatives. This inhibition is a cardiolipin-dependent process. This lipid, specific to the inner mitochondrial membrane, has been shown previously to interact specifically with adriamycin in model membranes (Goormaghtigh, E., Chatelain, P., Caspers, J. and Ruysschaert, J.-M. (1980) Biochim. Biophys. Acta 597, 1-14) and in mitochondrial membranes (Cheneval, D., Müller, M., Toni, R., Ruetz, S. and Carafoli, E. (1985) J. Biol. Chem. 260, 13003-13007). The differential scanning calorimetry data indicate that, in multilamellar liposomes, the formation of antibiotic-cardiolipin complexes induces a clustering of cardiolipin molecules. Conformational analysis of the antibiotic-cardiolipin complexes suggests that plane-plane interactions between the antibiotics aromatic moieties stabilize this complex formation. Possible mechanisms of inactivation of complex I-III by adriamycin are proposed.