The mechanism of electron coupled proton transfer in cytochrome c oxidase (CcO) is still poorly understood. The P-M-intermediate of the catalytic cycle is an oxoferryl state whose generation requires one additional electron, which cannot be provided by the two metal centres. The missing electron has been suggested to be donated to this binuclear site by a tyrosine residue. A tyrosine radical species has been detected in the Pm and F intermediates (formed by addition of H2O2) of the Paraccocus denitrificans CcO using electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy. From the study of conserved variants its origin was determined to be Y167 which is surprising as this residue is not part of the active site. Upon inspection of the active site it becomes evident that W272 could be the actual donor of the missing electron, which can then be replenished from Y167 or from the Y280-14276 cross link in the natural cycle. To address the question, whether such a direct electron transfer pathway to the binuclear centre exists two tryptophan 272 variants in subunit I have been generated. These variants are characterised by their turnover rates as well as using EPR and optical spectroscopy. From these experiments it is concluded, that W272 is an important intermediate in the formation of the radical species appearing in P-M and F- intermediates produced with hydrogen peroxide. The significance of this finding for the catalytic function of the enzyme is discussed. (c) 2006 Published by Elsevier B.V. on behalf of the Federation of European Biochemical Societies.