Rates of mitochondrial superoxide anion radical (O-2) generation are known to be inversely correlated with the maximum life span potential of different mammalian species. The objective of this study was to understand the possible mechanism(s) underlying such variations in the rate of O-2 generation. The hypothesis that the relative amounts of the ubiquinones or coenzyme Q (CoQ) homologues, CoQ9 and CoQ10, are related with the rate of O-2 generation was tested. A comparison of nine different mammalian species, namely mouse, rat, guinea pig, rabbit, pig, goat, sheep, cow, and horse, which vary from 3.5 to 46 years in their maximum longevity, indicated that the rate of O-2 generation in cardiac submitochondrial particles (SMPs) was directly related to the relative amount of CoQ9 and inversely related to the amount of CoQ10, extractable from their cardiac mitochondria. To directly test the relationship between CoQ homologues and the rate of O-2 generation, rat heart SMPs, naturally containing mainly CoQ9 and cow heart SMPs, with high natural CoQ10 content, were chosen for depletion/reconstitution experiments. Repeated extractions of rat heart SMPs with pentane exponentially depleted both CoQ homologues while the corresponding rates of O-2 generation and oxygen consumption were lowered linearly. Reconstitution of both rat and cow heart SMPs with different amounts of CoQ9 or CoQ10 caused an initial increase in the rates of O-2 generation, followed by a plateau at high concentrations. Within the physiological range of CoQ concentrations, there were no differences in the rates of O-2 generation between SMPs reconstituted with CoQ9 or CoQ10. Only at concentrations that were considerably higher than the physiological level, the SMPs reconstituted with CoQ9 exhibited higher rates of O-2 generation than those obtained with CoQ10. These in vitro findings do not support the hypothesis that differences in the distribution of CoQ homologues are responsible for the variations in the rates of mitochondrial O-2 generation in different mammalian species.