Detailed studies correlating changes in mitochondrial optical density, packed volume, and ultrastructure associated with osmotically-induced swelling were performed. Various swelling states were established by incubating mitochondria (isolated in 0.25 M sucrose) at 0°C for 5 min in series of KCl and sucrose solutions ranging in tonicity from 250 to 3 milliosmols. Reversibility of swelling was determined by examining mitochondria exposed to 250 milliosmols media after they had been induced to swell. Swelling induced by lowering the ambient tonicity to approximately 130 (liver mitochondria) and 90 (heart mitochondria) milliosmols involves primarily swelling of the inner compartment within the intact outer membrane. Decreasing the ambient tonicity beyond this level results in rupture of the outer membrane and expansion of the inner compartment through the break. The maximum extent of swelling, corresponding with complete unfolding of the cristae and an increase in over-all mitochondrial volume of approximately 6-fold (liver mitochondria) and 11-fold (heart mitochondria), is reached at approximately 15 (liver mitochondria) and 3 (heart mitochondria) milliosmols. Exposure of liver mitochondria to media of lower tonicity results in irreversibility of inner compartment swelling and escape of matrix material. These changes appear to result from increased inner membrane permeability, possibly due to stretching.

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