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Mitochondria are the major source of potentially damaging reactive oxygen species in most cells. Since ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, can protect against cellular oxidant stress, we studied the ability of mitochondria prepared from guinea pig skeletal muscle to recycle the vitamin from its oxidized forms. Although ascorbate concentrations in freshly prepared mitochondria were only about 0.2 mM, when provided with 6 mM succinate and 1 mM dehydroascorbate (the two-electron-oxidized form of the vitamin), mitochondria were able to generate and maintain concentrations as high as 4 mM, while releasing most of the ascorbate into the incubation medium. Mitochondrial reduction of dehydroascorbate was strongly inhibited by 1,3-bis(chloroethyl)-1-nitrosourea and by phenylarsine oxide. Despite existing evidence that mitochondrial ascorbate protects the organelle from oxidant damage, ascorbate failed to preserve mitochondrial alpha-tocopherol during prolonged incubation in oxygenated buffer. Nonetheless, the capacity for mitochondria to recycle ascorbate from its oxidized forms, measured as ascorbate-dependent ferricyanide reduction, was several-fold greater than total steady-state ascorbate concentrations. This, and the finding that more than half of the ascorbate recycled from dehydroascorbate escaped the mitochondrion, suggests that mitochondrial recycling of ascorbate might be an important mechanism for regenerating intracellular ascorbate.