1. The results of non-linear optimization studies on the mechanism of reaction of ferricyanide-pretreated mixed-valence-state cytochrome oxidase with O2 at 173 K are presented. The analysis is carried out on data obtained by means of dual-wavelength multi-channel spectroscopy at four wavelength pairs (444-463 nm, 604-630 nm, 608-630 nm and 830-940 nm) and at two O2 concentrations (360 micron and 520 micron). The only model that satisfies the triple requirement of a standard deviation within the standard error of the experimental data, a random distribution of residuals and good determination of the optimized parameters, is a three-intermediate sequential mechanism. 2. On the basis of the optimized values of the relative absorption coefficients of the intermediates at each wavelength obtained from the present paper together with data from optical wavelength scanning and e.p.r. spectroscopy obtained by low-temperature trapping studies, the possible valence states of the metal centres in each of the intermediates are discussed.