The heme enzyme indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) plays an important immune regulatory role by catalyzing the oxidative degradation of l-tryptophan. Here we show that the selenezal drug ebselen is a potent IDO inhibitor. Exposure of human macrophages to ebselen inhibited IDO activity in a manner independent of changes in protein expression. Ebselen inhibited the activity of recombinant human IDO (rIDO) with an apparent inhibition constant of 94 +/- 17 nM. Optical and resonance Raman spectroscopy showed that ebselen altered the active site heme of rIDO by inducing a transition of the ferric heme iron from the predominantly high- to low-spin form and by lowering the vibrational frequency of the Fe-CO stretch of the CO complex, indicating an opening of the distal heme pocket. Substrate binding studies showed that ebselen enhanced nonproductive l-tryptophan binding, while circular dichroism indicated that the drug reduced the helical content and protein stability of rIDO. Thiol labeling and mass spectrometry revealed that ebselen reacted with multiple cysteine residues of IDO. Removal of cysteine-bound ebselen with dithiothreitol reversed the effects of the drug on the heme environment and significantly restored enzyme activity. These findings indicate that ebselen inhibits IDO activity by reacting with the enzyme's cysteine residues that result in changes to protein conformation and active site heme, leading to an increase in the level of nonproductive substrate binding. This study highlights that modification of cysteine residues is a novel and effective means of inhibiting IDO activity. It also suggests that IDO is under redox control and that the enzyme represents a previously unrecognized in vivo target of ebselen.