Cytochromes cd(1) are dimeric bacterial nitrite reductases, which contain two hemes per monomer. On reduction of both hemes, the distal ligand of heme d(1) dissociates, creating a vacant coordination site accessible to substrate. Heme c, which transfers electrons from donor proteins into the active site, has histidine/methionine ligainds except in the oxidized enzyme from Paracoccus pantotrophus where both ligands are histidine. During reduction of this enzyme, Tyr(25) dissociates from the distal side of heme d(1), and one heme c ligand is replaced by methionine. Activity is associated with histidine/methionine coordination at heme c, and it is believed that P.pantotrophus cytochrome cd(1) is unreactive toward substrate without reductive activation. However, we report here that the oxidized enzyme will react with nitrite to yield a novel species in which heme d(1) is EPR-silent. Magnetic circular dichroism studies indicate that heme d(1) is low-spin Fell, but EPR-silent as a result of spin coupling to a radical species formed during the reaction with nitrite. This reaction drives the switch to histidine/methionine ligation at Fell, heme c. Thus the enzyme is activated by exposure to its physiological substrate without the necessity of passing through the reduced state. This reactivity toward nitrite is also observed for oxidized cytochrome cd(1) from Pseudomonas stutzeri suggesting a more general involvement of the EPR-silent Fe-III heme d(1) species in nitrite reduction.