The oligomycin sensitivity conferring protein (OSCP) is an essential subunit of the mitochondrial ATP synthase (F0F1) long regarded as being directly involved in the energetic coupling of proton transport to ATP synthesis. To gain insight into the function of OSCP, mutations were made in a highly conserved central region of the subunit, and the recombinant proteins were studied using several biochemical assays. Rat liver OSCP was expressed to high levels in Escherichia coli, solubilized from inclusion bodies, renatured, and purified to homogeneity. The recombinant protein was able to reconstitute oligomycin-sensitive ATPase activity to inner membrane vesicles depleted of F1 and OSCP, and bound to F1 with a stoichiometry of 1:1. A novel fluorescence anisotropy assay was developed to study the affinity of binding of F1 to OSCP, providing a Kd value of 51 +/- 11 nM. Two highly conserved, charged residues (E91 and R94) which lie within the central region of OSCP were mutated, and the recombinant proteins (E91Q, R94Q, and R94A) were purified to homogeneity and judged by CD spectroscopy to have structures similar to that of the wild-type protein. Both R94 mutants demonstrated little or no binding to F1, while the E91Q bound in a manner identical to that of wild-type OSCP. Significantly, all three mutant proteins were able to reconstitute F1 with membranes and to confer oligomycin sensitivity to the same extent as wild-type OSCP. These results demonstrate that a single tight binding site exists on isolated rat liver F1 for OSCP, and implicate arginine 94 as playing a critical role in this site. In addition, these results indicate that this tight binding site is not required for conferral of oligomycin sensitivity to the reconstituted F0F1 complex.