X-ray edge absorption of copper and extended fine structure studies of both copper and iron centers have been made of cytochrome oxidase from beef heart, Paracoccus dentrificans, and HB-8 thermophilic bacteria (1–2.5 mM in heme). The desired redox state (fully oxidized, reduced CO, mixed valence formate and CO) in the x-ray beam was controlled by low temperature (-140 degrees C) and was continuously monitored by simultaneous optical spectroscopy and by electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) monitoring every 30 min of x-ray exposure. The structure of the active site, a cytochrome a3-copper pair in fully oxidized and in mixed valence formate states where they are spin coupled, contains a sulphur bridge with three ligands 2.60 +/- 0.03 A from Fea3 and 2.18 +/- 0.03 A from Cua3. The distance between Fea3 and Cua3 is 3.75 +/- 0.05 A, making the sulphur bond angle 103 degrees reasonable for sp3 sulphur bonding. The Fea3 first shell has four typical heme nitrogens (2.01 +/- 0.03 A) with a proximal nitrogen at 2.14 +/- 0.03 A. The sixth ligand is the bridging sulphur. The Cua3 first shell is identical to oxidized stellacyanin containing two nitrogens and a bridging sulphur. Upon reduction with CO, the active site is identical to reduced stellacyanin for the Cua3 first shell and contains the sulphur that forms the bridge in fully oxidized and mixed valence formate states. The Fea3 first shell is identical to oxyhemoglobin but has CO instead of O2. The other redox centers, Fea and the other "EPR detectable" Cu are not observed in higher shells of Fea3. Fea has six equidistant nitrogens and Cua has one (or two) nitrogens and three (or two) sulphurs with typical distances; these ligands change only slight on reduction. These structures afford the basis for an oxygen reduction mechanism involving oxy- and peroxy intermediates.
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