Cardiolipin (CL) is a unique phospholipid which is present throughout the eukaryotic kingdom and is localized in mitochondrial membranes. Saccharomyces cerevisiae cells containing a disruption of CRD1, the structural gene encoding CL synthase, have no CL in mitochondrial membranes. To elucidate the physiological role of CL, we compared mitochondrial functions in the crd1Δ mutant and isogenic wild type. The crd1Δ mutant loses viability at elevated temperature, and prolonged culture at 37 °C leads to loss of the mitochondrial genome. Mutant membranes have increased phosphatidylglycerol (PG) when grown in a nonfermentable carbon source but have almost no detectable PG in medium containing glucose. In glucose-grown cells, maximum respiratory rate, ATPase and cytochrome oxidase activities, and protein import are deficient in the mutant. The ADP/ATP carrier is defective even during growth in a nonfermentable carbon source. The mitochondrial membrane potential is decreased in mutant cells. The decrease is more pronounced in glucose-grown cells, which lack PG, but is also apparent in membranes containing PG (i.e. in nonfermentable carbon sources). We propose that CL is required for maintaining the mitochondrial membrane potential and that reduced membrane potential in the absence of CL leads to defects in protein import and other mitochondrial functions.