Mitochondrial dysfunction occurs in many neurodegenerative diseases. The alpha-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase complex (KGDHC) catalyzes a key and arguably rate-limiting step of the tricarboxylic acid cycle (TCA). A reduction in the activity of the KGDHC occurs in brains and cells of patients with many of these disorders and may underlie the abnormal mitochondrial function. Abnormalities in calcium homeostasis also occur in fibroblasts from Alzheimer's disease (AD) patients and in cells bearing mutations that lead to AD. Thus, the present studies test whether the reduction of KGDHC activity can lead to the alterations in mitochondrial function and calcium homeostasis. alpha-Keto-beta-methyl-n-valeric acid (KMV) inhibits KGDHC activity in living N2a cells in a dose- and time-dependent manner. Surprisingly, concentration of KMV that inhibit in situ KGDHC by 80% does not alter the mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP). However, similar concentrations of KMV induce the release of cytochrome c from mitochondria into the cytosol, reduce basal [Ca(2+)](i) by 23% (P<0.005), and diminish the bradykinin (BK)-induced calcium release from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) by 46% (P<0.005). This result suggests that diminished KGDHC activities do not lead to the Ca(2+) abnormalities in fibroblasts from AD patients or cells bearing PS-1 mutations. The increased release of cytochrome c with diminished KGDHC activities will be expected to activate other pathways including cell death cascades. Reductions in this key mitochondrial enzyme will likely make the cells more vulnerable to metabolic insults that promote cell death.