Mitochondria play a critical role in initiating both apoptotic and necrotic cell death. A major player in this process is the mitochondrial permeability transition pore (MPTP), a non-specific pore, permeant to any molecule of < 1.5 kDa, that opens in the inner mitochondrial membrane under conditions of elevated matrix [Ca(2+)], especially when this is accompanied by oxidative stress and depleted adenine nucleotides. Opening of the MPTP causes massive swelling of mitochondria, rupture of the outer membrane and release of intermembrane components that induce apoptosis. In addition mitochondria become depolarised causing inhibition of oxidative phosphorylation and stimulation of ATP hydrolysis. Pore opening is inhibited by cyclosporin A analogues with the same affinity as they inhibit the peptidyl-prolyl cis-trans isomerase activity of mitochondrial cyclophilin (CyP-D). These data and the observation that different ligands of the adenine nucleotide translocase (ANT) can either stimulate or inhibit pore opening led to the proposal that the MPTP is formed by a Ca-triggered conformational change of the ANT that is facilitated by the binding of CyP-D. Our model is able to explain the mode of action of a wide range of known modulators of the MPTP that exert their effects by changing the binding affinity of the ANT for CyP-D, Ca(2+) or adenine nucleotides. The extensive evidence for this model from our own and other laboratories is presented, including reconstitution studies that demonstrate the minimum configuration of the MPTP to require neither the voltage activated anion channel (VDAC or porin) nor any other outer membrane protein. However, other proteins including Bcl-2, BAX and virus-derived proteins may interact with the ANT to regulate the MPTP. Recent data suggest that oxidative cross-linking of two matrix facing cysteine residues on the ANT (Cys(56) and Cys(159)) plays a key role in regulating the MPTP. Adenine nucleotide binding to the ANT is inhibited by Cys(159) modification whilst oxidation of Cys(56) increases CyP-D binding to the ANT, probably at Pro(61).