The x-ray absorption for copper and zinc in oxidized and reduced superoxide dismutase, as well as in various model compounds, was studied. Upon reduction of the protein, the added electron affects the copper site almost exclusively, while the zinc remains virtually unchanged. Reduction decreases the charge on the copper atom [toward Cu(I)] and changes the configuration of the copper site so that it becomes less symmetric. An analysis of the copper absorption observed with the oxidized enzyme and a comparison with that for Cu(II)(imid)4 suggests that the copper is not simply ligated to four imidazoles. The addition of H2O2 to superoxide dismutase reduces the copper to Cu(I), while oxygen addition to the peroxide-reduced protein restores the copper to Cu(II).