The aim of this study was to investigate comparative effects of vitamin A deficiency on respiratory activity and structural integrity in liver and heart mitochondria. Male rats were fed a liquid control diet (control rats) or a liquid vitamin A-deficient diet (vitamin A-deficient rats) for 50 days. One group of vitamin-A deficient rats was refed a control diet for 15 days (vitamin A-recovered rats). To assess the respiratory function of mitochondria the contents of coenzyme Q (ubiquinone, CoQ), cytochrome c and the activities of the whole electron transport chain and of each of its respiratory complexes were evaluated. Chronic vitamin A deficiency promoted a significant increase in the endogenous coenzyme Q content in liver and heart mitochondria when compared with control values. Vitamin A deficiency induced a decrease in the activity of complex I (NADH–CoQ reductase) and complex II (succinate–CoQ reductase) and in the levels of complex I and cytochrome c in heart mitochondria. However, NADH and succinate oxidation rates were maintained at the control levels due to an increase in the CoQ content in accordance with the kinetic behaviour of CoQ as an homogeneous pool. On the contrary, the high CoQ content did not affect the electron-transfer rate in liver mitochondria, whose integrity was preserved from the deleterious effects of the vitamin A deficiency. Ultrastuctural assessment of liver and heart showed that vitamin A deficiency did not induce appreciable alterations in the morphology of their mitochondria. After refeeding the control diet, serum retinol, liver and heart CoQ content and the activity of complex I and complex II in heart mitochondria returned to normality. However, the activities of both whole electron transfer chain and complex I in liver were increased over the control values. The interrelationships between physiological antioxidants in biological membranes and the beneficial effects of their administration in mitochondrial diseases are discussed.