The mitochondrial nicotinamide nucleotide transhydrogenase catalyzes hydride ion transfer between NAD(H) and NADP(H) in a reaction that is coupled to proton translocation across the inner mitochondrial membrane. The enzyme (1043 residues) is composed of an N-terminal hydrophilic segment (approximately 400 residues long) which binds NAD(H), a C-terminal hydrophilic segment (approximately 200 residues long) which binds NADP(H), and a central hydrophobic segment (approximately 400 residues long) which appears to form about 14 membrane-intercalating clusters of approximately 20 residues each. Substrate modulation of transhydrogenase conformation appears to be intimately associated with its mechanism of proton translocation. Using trypsin as a probe of enzyme conformation change, we have shown that NADPH (and to a much lesser extent NADP) binding alters transhydrogenase conformation, resulting in increased susceptibility of several bonds to tryptic hydrolysis. NADH and NAD had little or no effect, and the NADPH concentration for half-maximal enhancement of trypsin sensitivity of transhydrogenase activity (35 microM) was close to the Km of the enzyme for NADPH. The NADPH-promoted trypsin cleavage sites were located 200-400 residues distant from the NADP(H) binding domain near the C-terminus. For example, NADPH binding greatly increased the trypsin sensitivity of the K410-T411 bond, which is separated from the NADP(H) binding domain by the 400-residue-long membrane-intercalating segment. It also enhanced the tryptic cleavage of the R602-L603 bond, which is located within the central hydrophobic segment. These results, which suggest a protein conformation change as a result of NADPH binding, have been discussed in relation to the mechanism of proton translocation by the transhydrogenase.