Perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA) is a potent peroxisome proliferator and is known to affect hepatic lipid metabolism in rats. The effects of PFDA on fatty acid utilization were examined in isolated rat hepatocyte suspensions and in rat liver mitochondria and microsomes. PFDA inhibited the oxidation of palmitic acid but not octanoic or pyruvic acids when hepatocytes were incubated with 1 mM PFDA. At this PFDA concentration the esterification of palmitic acid into triacylglycerols was also reduced. The activity of long-chain acyl-CoA synthetase (ACS), an enzyme essential for both oxidation and esterification of fatty acids, was reduced in hepatocytes incubated with 1 mM PFDA. Carnitine palmitoyltransferase (CPT), an important enzyme for the oxidation of long-chain fatty acids, was not altered in hepatocytes incubated with this PFDA concentration. In rat liver mitochondria, palmitate oxidation and ACS activity were reduced significantly (P less than 0.01) at a PFDA concentration that had no effect on CPT activity. The inhibition of ACS by PFDA was similar in liver mitochondria and microsome preparations. In mitochondria incubated with PFDA, the inhibition of ACS appears to be noncompetitive for the substrates palmitic acid and CoA. However, the ACS inhibition by PFDA appeared to be competitive for the ATP binding site of the enzyme. Several chain length perfluorinated fatty acids were examined for their ability to inhibit mitochondrial ACS. Short-chain perfluorinated fatty acids (perfluoroproprionic and -butyric acid) did not inhibit ACS activity. However, medium-chain perfluorinated acids (perfluorooctanoic, -ananoic and -decanoic acid) were found to be potent inhibitors of ACS in isolated mitochondria. Whether ACS inhibition is causally related to PFDA-induced peroxisome proliferation and altered lipid metabolism seen in vivo is yet to be determined.