Histidine-rich glycoprotein (HRG) binds both hemes and metal ions simultaneously with evidence for interaction between the two. This study uses resonance Raman and optical absorption spectroscopies to examine the heme environment of the 1:1 iron-mesoporphyrin.HRG complex in its oxidized, reduced and CO-bound forms in the absence and presence of copper. Significant perturbation of Fe(3+)-mesoporphyrin.HRG is induced by Cu2+ binding to the protein. Specifically, high frequency heme resonance Raman bands indicative of low-spin, six-coordinate iron before Cu2+ binding exhibit monotonic intensity shifts to bands representing high-spin, five-coordinate iron. The latter coordination is in contrast to that found in hemoglobin and myoglobin, and explains the Cu(2+)-induced decrease and broadening of the Fe(3+)-mesoporphyrin.HRG Soret band concomitant with the increase in the high-spin marker band at 620 nm. After dithionite reduction, the Fe(2+)-mesoporphyrin.HRG complex displays high frequency resonance Raman bands characteristic of low-spin heme and no iron-histidine stretch, which together suggest six-coordinate iron. Furthermore, the local heme environment of the complex is not altered by the binding of Cu1+. CO-bound Fe(2+)-mesoporphyrin.HRG exhibits bands in the high and low frequency regions similar to those of other CO-bound heme proteins except that the iron-CO stretch at 505 cm-1 is unusually broad with delta nu approximately 30 cm-1. The dynamics of CO photolysis and rebinding to Fe(2+)-mesoporphyrin.HRG are also distinctive. The net quantum yield for photolysis at 10 ns is low relative to most heme proteins, which may be attributed to very rapid geminate recombination. A similar low net quantum yield and broad iron-CO stretch have so far only been observed in a dimeric cytochrome c' from Chromatium vinosum. Furthermore, the photolytic transient of Fe(2+)-mesoporphyrin.HRG lacks bands corresponding to high-spin, five-coordinate iron as is found in hemoglobin and myoglobin under similar experimental conditions, suggesting iron hexacoordination before CO recombination. These data are consistent with a closely packed distal heme pocket that hinders ligand diffusion into the surrounding solvent.