The role of cytochrome c and catalase in hydroperoxide-induced lipid peroxidation of rat heart mitochondria was investigated. Mitoplasts were prepared from hearts of aminotriazole-treated rats which displayed both an 80-90% reduction in matrix catalase activity and rate of H2O2 consumption. Catalase-depleted mitochondria were more susceptible to H2O2-dependent lipid peroxidation and had similar extents of tert-butyl hydroperoxide (t-BuOOH)-induced lipid peroxidation compared with control mitochondria. The magnitude of lipid peroxidation induced by H2O2 was greater than that for t-BuOOH in catalase-depleted mitochondria, while t-BuOOH induced soybean phosphatidylcholine (PC) liposome lipid peroxidation to a greater extent than H2O2. The t-BuOOH- and H2O2-dependent mitochondrial lipid peroxidation was inhibited 50 and 7%, respectively, by cytochrome c3+ depletion of mitochondria. Similar relative sensitivities to t-BuOOH- and H2O2-dependent peroxidation occurred for cytochrome c(3+)-supplemented soybean PC liposomes. These data show a critical role for cytochrome c3+ in hydroperoxide-induced mitochondrial lipid peroxidation and demonstrate the importance of matrix catalase in protecting heart mitochondria from the toxicity of H2O2.