The influence of adenine nucleotides and Mg2+ on the thermal denaturation of mitochondrial F1-ATPase (MF1) was analyzed. Differential scanning calorimetry in combination with ATPase activity experiments revealed the thermal unfolding of MF1 as an irreversible and kinetically controlled process. Three significant elements were analyzed during the thermal denaturation process: the endothermic calorimetric transition, the loss of ATP hydrolysis activity, and the release of tightly bound nucleotides. All three processes occur in the same temperature range, over a wide variety of conditions. The purified F1-ATPase, which contains three tightly bound nucleotides, denatures at a transition temperature (T(m)) of 55°C. The nucleotide and Mg2+ content of MF1 strongly influence the thermal denaturation process. First, further binding of nucleotides and/or Mg2+ to MF1 increases the thermal denaturation temperature, whereas the thermal stability of the enzyme is decreased upon removal of the endogenous nucleotides. Second, the stabilizing effect induced by nucleotides is smaller after hydrolysis of ATP (i.e., in the presence of ADP · Mg2+) than under nonhydrolytical conditions (i.e., absence of Mg2+ or using the nonhydrolyzable analog 5'-adenylyl-imidodiphosphate). Third, whereas the thermal denaturation of MF1 fully loaded with nucleotides follows an apparent two-state kinetic process, denaturation of MF1 with a low nucleotide content follows more complex kinetics. Nucleotide content is therefore an important factor in determining the thermal stability of the MF1 complex, probably by strengthening existing intersubunit interactions or by establishing new ones.