Effects of growth conditions on mitochondrial morphology were studied in living Saccharomyces cerevisiae cells by vital staining with the fluorescent dye dimethyl-aminostyryl-methylpyridinium iodine (DASPMI), fluorescence microscopy, and confocal-scanning laser microscopy. Cells from respiratory, ethanol-grown batch cultures contained a large number of small mitochondria. Conversely, cells from glucose-grown batch cultures, in which metabolism was respiro-fermentative, contained small numbers of large, branched mitochondria. These changes did not significantly affect the fraction of the cellular volume occupied by the mitochondria. Similar differences in mitochondrial morphology were observed in glucose-limited chemostat cultures. In aerobic chemostat cultures, glucose metabolism was strictly respiratory and cells contained a large number of small mitochondria. Anaerobic, fermentative chemostat cultivation resulted in the large, branched mitochondrial structures also seen in glucose-grown batch cultures. Upon aeration of a previously anaerobic chemostat culture, the maximum respiratory capacity increased from 10 to 70 mumole.min-1.g dry weight-1 within 10 h. This transition resulted in drastic changes of mitochondrial number, morphology and, consequently, mitochondrial surface area. These changes continued for several hours after the respiratory capacity had reached its maximum. Cyanide-insensitive oxygen consumption contributed ca. 50% of the total respiratory capacity in anaerobic cultures, but was virtually absent in aerobic cultures. The response of aerobic cultures to oxygen deprivation was qualitatively the reverse of the response of anaerobic cultures to aeration. The results indicate that mitochondrial morphology in S. cerevisiae is closely linked to the metabolic activity of this yeast: conditions that result in repression of respiratory enzymes generally lead to the mitochondrial morphology observed in anaerobically grown, fermenting cells.