The electron transport chain of mitochondria is a major source of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which play a critical role in augmenting the Ca(2+)-induced mitochondrial permeability transition (MPT). Mitochondrial release of superoxide anions (O(2)(-)) from the intermembrane space (IMS) to the cytosol is mediated by voltage dependent anion channels (VDAC) in the outer membrane. Here, we examined whether closure of VDAC increases intramitochondrial oxidative stress by blocking efflux of O(2)(-) from the IMS and sensitizing to the Ca(2+)-induced MPT. Treatment of isolated rat liver mitochondria with 5microM G3139, an 18-mer phosphorothioate blocker of VDAC, accelerated onset of the MPT by 6.8+/-1.4min within a range of 100-250microM Ca(2+). G3139-mediated acceleration of the MPT was reversed by 20microM butylated hydroxytoluene, a water soluble antioxidant. Pre-treatment of mitochondria with G3139 also increased accumulation of O(2)(-) in mitochondria, as monitored by dihydroethidium fluorescence, and permeabilization of the mitochondrial outer membrane with digitonin reversed the effect of G3139 on O(2)(-) accumulation. Mathematical modeling of generation and turnover of O(2)(-) within the IMS indicated that closure of VDAC produces a 1.55-fold increase in the steady-state level of mitochondrial O(2)(-). In conclusion, closure of VDAC appears to impede the efflux of superoxide anions from the IMS, resulting in an increased steady-state level of O(2)(-), which causes an internal oxidative stress and sensitizes mitochondria toward the Ca(2+)-induced MPT.