A recent report (Radi et al., J. Biol. Chem. 266:22028-22034, 1991) showed that rat heart mitochondria contain catalase. The protective role of mitochondrial catalase was tested by exposing heart or kidney mitochondria and mitoplasts to two oxidants (H2O2) or tert-butyl hydroperoxide, t-BOOH), estimating lipid peroxidation (as thiobarbituric acid-reactive substances, TBARS) and overall oxidative stress (as chemiluminescence). Additional controls included heart and kidney preparations from aminotriazole-treated (catalase-depleted) rats. Both oxidants increased TBARS in catalase-free preparations to similar extents over their respective controls (between 200 to 350%). In catalase-containing preparations, H2O2 lipid peroxidation increased by only 40 to 96% over controls. Similar qualitative results were obtained when measuring chemiluminescence. The catalytic role of cytochrome c in mitochondrial lipid peroxidation was investigated by exposing either control or cytochrome-c-depleted kidney mitoplasts (catalase free) to either H2O2 or t-BOOH. Hydrogen-peroxide-dependent mitochondrial lipid peroxidation varied with cytochrome c concentration, remaining close to controls when cytochrome c concentration decreased by 66%, even though there was no catalase present. Tert-butyl hydroperoxide-dependent lipid peroxidation was less affected by cytochrome c remaining 2.3-fold above controls under the same conditions, suggesting that organic peroxides are more likely to remain in the less polar membrane environment being decomposed by heme or nonheme iron imbedded in the inner mitochondrial membrane. Chemiluminescence was less affected by cytochrome c depletion. Comparing control and cytochrome-c-deficient mitochondria, chemiluminescence was 1.7-fold and 2.8-fold higher when control preparations were challenged with t-BOOH or H2O2, respectively.