Using fluorescent membrane potential sensing dyes to stain budding yeast, mitochondria are resolved as tubular organelles aligned in radial arrays that converge at the bud neck. Time-lapse fluorescence microscopy reveals region-specific, directed mitochondrial movement during polarized yeast cell growth and mitotic cell division. Mitochondria in the central region of the mother cell move linearly towards the bud, traverse the bud neck, and progress towards the bud tip at an average velocity of 49 +/- 21 nm/sec. In contrast, mitochondria in the peripheral region of the mother cell and at the bud tip display significantly less movement. Yeast strains containing temperature sensitive lethal mutations in the actin gene show abnormal mitochondrial distribution. No mitochondrial movement is evident in these mutants after short-term shift to semi-permissive temperatures. Thus, the actin cytoskeleton is important for normal mitochondrial movement during inheritance. To determine the possible role of known myosin genes in yeast mitochondrial motility, we investigated mitochondrial inheritance in myo1, myo2, myo3 and myo4 single mutants and in a myo2, myo4 double mutant. Mitochondrial spatial arrangement and motility are not significantly affected by these mutations. We used a microfilament sliding assay to examine motor activity on isolated yeast mitochondria. Rhodamine-phalloidin labeled yeast actin filaments bind to immobilized yeast mitochondria, as well as unilamellar, right-side-out, sealed mitochondrial outer membrane vesicles. In the presence of low levels of ATP (0.1-100 microM), we observed F-actin sliding on immobilized yeast mitochondria. In the presence of high levels of ATP (500 microM-2 mM), bound filaments are released from mitochondria and mitochondrial outer membranes. The maximum velocity of mitochondria-driven microfilament sliding (23 +/- 11 nm/sec) is similar to that of mitochondrial movement in living cells. This motor activity requires hydrolysis of ATP, does not require cytosolic extracts, is sensitive to protease treatment, and displays an ATP concentration dependence similar to that of members of the myosin family of actin-based motors. This is the first demonstration of an actin-based motor activity in a defined organelle population.