A detergent-solubilized, three-subunit-containing cytochrome bc1 complex, isolated from the photosynthetic bacterium R. rubrum, has been shown to be highly sensitive to stigmatellin, myxothiazol, antimycin A and UHDBT, four specific inhibitors of these complexes. Oxidation-reduction titrations have allowed the determination of E(m) values for all the electron-carrying prosthetic groups in the complex. Antimycin A has been shown to produce a red shift in the a-band absorbance maximum of one of the cytochrome b hemes in the complex and stigmatellin has been shown to alter both the E(m) and EPR g-values of the Rieske iron-sulfur protein in the complex. Western blots have revealed antigenic similarities between the cytochrome subunits of the R. rubrum complex and those of the related photosynthetic bacteria, Rb. capsulatus and Rb. sphaeroides. The R. rubrum complex has been incorporated into liposomes. These liposomes exhibit respiratory control and are able to couple electron transfer from quinol to cytochrome c to proton translocation across the liposome membrane in a manner consistent with a Q-cycle mechanism. It can thus be concluded that neither electron transport nor coupled proton translocation by the cytochrome bc1 complex requires more than three subunits in R. rubrum.