Mitochondrial translation of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae Atp6p subunit of F(1)-F(0) ATP synthase is regulated by the F(1) ATPase. Here we show normal expression of Atp6p in HeLa cells depleted of the F(1) β subunit. Instead of being translationally down-regulated, HeLa cells lacking F(1) degrade Atp6p, thereby preventing proton leakage across the inner membrane. Mammalian mitochondria also differ in the way they minimize the harmful effect of unassembled F(1) α subunit. While yeast mutants lacking β subunit have stable aggregated F(1) α subunit in the mitochondrial matrix, the human α subunit is completely degraded in cells deficient in F(1) β subunit. These results are discussed in light of the different properties of the proteins and environments in which yeast and human mitochondria exist.