Nitrous oxide reductase from the denitrifying bacterium Pseudomonas perfectomarina has been isolated and purified to homogeneity. The enzyme contained about eight copper atoms/120 kDa and was composed of two presumably identical subunits. The isoelectric point was 5.1. Several spectroscopically distinct forms of the enzyme were identified. A 'pink' form of the enzyme was obtained when the purification was done aerobically. The specific activity of this species was around 30 nkat/mg protein as measured by the nitrous-oxide-dependent oxidation of photochemically reduced benzyl viologen. A 'purple' form of the enzyme, whose catalytic activity was 2-5-fold higher, was obtained when the purification was done anaerobically. The activity of both forms of the enzyme was substantially increased by dialyzing the protein against 2-(N-cyclohexylamino)ethanesulfonate buffer at pH approximately equal to 10. A maximal activity of 1000 nkat/mg protein has been obtained for the purple form using this procedure. A 'blue', enzymatically inactive form of the enzyme resulted when either the pink or the purple species was exposed to excess dithionite or ascorbate. Anaerobic, potentiometric titrations of both the purple and the pink form of the enzyme gave a Nernst factor, n540, of 0.95 and a midpoint potential, E'0,540 of +260 mV (vs SHE, 25 degrees C, Tris/HCl buffer, pH 7.5). Electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) and optical spectra of N2O reductase suggested the presence of an unusual type 1 copper center. Type 2 copper was absent. The hyperfine splitting in the g parallel region consisted of a seven-line pattern. In the presence of excess of reductant, a broad EPR signal with g values at 2.18 and 2.06 was observed. The EPR spectra of the pink and purple forms of the enzyme were similar; however, the spectrum of the purple form was better resolved with g parallel = 2.18 (A parallel = 3.83 mT) and g perpendicular = 2.03 (A perpendicular = 2.8 mT). Most of the copper in N2O reductase was removed by anaerobic dialysis against KCN. Reaction of the apoprotein with Cu(en)2SO4 partially regenerated the optical and EPR spectra of the holoprotein; the resulting protein was enzymatically inactive. Monospecific antibodies against the copper protein strongly inhibited the N2O reductase activity of purified samples and cell-free extracts.