The mitochondrial transition pore (MTP) is implicated as a mediator of cell injury and death in many situations. The MTP opens in response to stimuli including reactive oxygen species and inhibition of the electron transport chain. Sporadic Parkinson's disease (PD) is characterized by oxidative stress and specifically involves a defect in complex I of the electron transport chain. To explore the possible involvement of the MTP in PD models, we tested the effects of the complex I inhibitor and apoptosis-inducing toxin N-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium (MPP+) on cyclosporin A (CsA)-sensitive mitochondrial swelling and release of cytochrome c. In the presence of Ca2+ and Pi, MPP+ induced a permeability transition in both liver and brain mitochondria. MPP+ also caused release of cytochrome c from liver mitochondria. Rotenone, a classic non-competitive complex I inhibitor, completely inhibited MPP(+)-induced swelling and release of cytochrome c. The MPP(+)-induced permeability transition was synergistic with nitric oxide and the adenine nucleotide translocator inhibitor atractyloside, and additive with phenyl arsine oxide cross-linking of dithiol residues. MPP(+)-induced pore opening and cytochrome c release were blocked by CsA, the Ca2+ uniporter inhibitor ruthenium red, the hydrophobic disulfide reagent N-ethylmaleimide, butacaine, and the free radical scavenging enzymes catalase and superoxide dismutase. MPP+ neurotoxicity may derive from not only its inhibition of complex I and consequent ATP depletion, but also from its ability to open the MTP and to release mitochondrial factors including Ca2+ and cytochrome c known to be involved in apoptosis.