We demonstrate here that mitochondrial translation products synthesized by isolated yeast mitochondria are subject to rapid proteolysis. The loss of label from mitochondrial peptides synthesized in vitro comes from two distinct pools of peptides: one that is rapidly degraded (t 1/2 of minutes) and one that is much more resistant to proteolysis (t 1/2 of hours). As the length of the incubation period increases, the percentage of labelled peptides in the rapidly-turning-over pool decreases and cannot be detected after 60 min of incubation. This proteolysis is inhibited by chloramphenicol and is dependent on the presence of ATP. The loss of label during the chase occurs from fully completed translation products. The proteolysis observed here markedly affects measurements of rates of mitochondrial protein synthesis in isolated yeast mitochondria. In earlier work, in which proteolysis was not considered, mitochondrial translation was thought to stop after 20-30 min of incubation. In the present study, by taking proteolysis into account, we demonstrate that the rate of translation in isolated mitochondria is actually constant for nearly 60 min and then decreases to near zero by 80 min of incorporation. These findings have allowed us to devise a procedure for measuring the 'true' rate of translation in isolated mitochondria. In addition, they suggest that mitochondrial translation products which normally assemble with nuclear-encoded gene products into multimeric enzyme complexes are unstable without their nuclear-encoded counterparts.