Induction of the mitochondrial permeability transition in vitro is well-characterized and widely implicated in the mechanism of oxidant-induced cell death. Despite an abundance of in vitro evidence, implication of mitochondrial dysfunction in the mechanism of chemical toxicity in vivo awaits demonstration of the induction of the mitochondrial permeability transition in tissues from intoxicated animals. Menadione (2-methyl-1, 4-naphthoquinone), an agent known to induce the permeability transition in isolated liver mitochondrial in vitro, was administered as a single bolus to adult male rats, and hepatic mitochondria were isolated 24 h later. Mitochondria from menadione-treated rats exhibited an increased sensitivity to calcium-induced inhibition of state 3 respiration and loss of respiratory control, as well as a greater sensitivity to calcium-induced calcium release that was inhibited by cyclosporine A. Associated with this was the depolarization of membrane potential and swelling of mitochondria from menadione-treated animals, but not control animals. Both the calcium-dependent depolarization and swelling of mitochondria from menadione-treated rats were inhibited by adding either cyclosporine A or ruthenium red. The results are consistent with the induction of the mitochondrial permeability transition and provide the first evidence for the manifestation of an increased sensitivity to this response as a result of chemical exposure in vivo.