Rates for the reaction of nitric oxide with several ferric heme proteins and model compounds have been measured. The NO combination rates are markedly affected by the presence or absence of distal histidine. Elephant myoglobin in which the E7 distal histidine has been replaced by glutamine reacts with NO 500-1000 times faster than do the native hemoglobins or myoglobins. By contrast, there is no difference in the CO combination rate constants of sperm whale and elephant myoglobins. Studies on ferric model compounds for the R and T states of hemoglobin indicate that their NO combination rate constants are similar to those observed for the combination of CO with the corresponding ferro derivatives. The last observation suggests that the presence of an axial water molecule at the ligand binding site of ferric hemoglobin A prevents it from exhibiting significant cooperativity in its reactions with NO.