The spray-freeze-etching technique has been used to study energy-linked mitochondrial structural changes in rat liver mitochondria incubated in vitro. The technique involves spraying the suspension of mitochondria into liquid propane at -190 degrees C, and does not require the use of cryoprotectants or chemical fixatives. The results confirmed that freshly isolated mitochondria have a condensed matrix and that this expands at the expense of the outer compartment to give the orthodox configuration when the mitochondria are incubated in a K+ medium in the presence of substrate and phosphate. Addition of adenosine diphosphate (ADP) caused a rapid shrinkage of the matrix compartment, and the time-course and extent of this shrinkage has been measured quantitatively by coupling a rapid sampling device to the spray-freezing apparatus. These data show that for orthodox mitochondria the onset of phosphorylation is accompanied by a reduction of 30% in the matrix volume in 20's, and there is no evidence that the decrease in matrical volume affects the phosphorylation efficiency. These results suggest that natural ionophores in the mitochondrial inner membrane make it permeable enough to permit a rapid readjustment of matrix volume after the addition of ADP, and that the associated ion movement does not cause uncoupling of oxidative phosphorylation.

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