We examined the effects of chronic dietary iron overload on hepatic mitochondrial oxidative metabolism. Experimental iron overload was produced by feeding rats a chow diet supplemented with carbonyl iron over a 7-week period. Biochemical and histologic evaluations of liver tissue confirmed moderate degrees of hepatic parenchymal iron overload. Electron microscopy showed no abnormalities in hepatic mitochondrial ultrastructure in blocks of tissue or in mitochondrial fractions from iron-loaded liver. Studies of mitochondrial oxidative metabolism revealed a consistent and progressive decrease in state 3 (ADP-stimulated) respiration and in respiratory control ratios at hepatic iron concentrations above 1,000 μg per gm for all three substrates studied, glutamate, β-hydroxybutyrate and succinate. Changes in state 4 (ADP-limited) respiration and ADP/O ratios were not progressive with increasing hepatic iron concentrations. At hepatic iron concentrations at which there were decreases in state 3 respiration and respiratory control ratios, there was also evidence of lipid-conjugated diene formation, indicative of mitochondrial lipid peroxidation. There were no changes in mitochondrial function when iron as either ferritin or hemosiderin or as a combination of ferritin, hemosiderin and ferric nitrilotriacetate was added in vitro to normal liver homogenates. Use of density gradient centrifugation to reduce iron and lysosomal contamination of mitochondrial fractions failed to prevent the reduction in mitochondrial function. We conclude that moderate degrees of chronic hepatic iron overload in vivo result in an inhibitory defect in the mitochondrial electron transport chain as evidenced by a decrease in state 3 respiration and respiratory control ratios.