Inducible nitric-oxide synthase (NOS) was expressed and purified in the absence of 6(R)-tetrahydro-l-biopterin (H(4)B). Pterin-free NOS exhibits a Soret band (416-420 nm) characteristic of predominantly low spin heme and does not catalyze the formation of nitric oxide (. NO) (Rusche, K. M., Spiering, M. M., and Marletta, M. A. (1998) Biochemistry 37, 15503-15512). Reconstitution of pterin-free NOS with H(4)B was monitored by a shift in the Soret band to 396-400 nm, the recovery of.NO-forming activity, and the measurement of H(4)B bound to the enzyme. As assessed by these properties, H(4)B binding was not rapid and required the presence of a reduced thiol. Spectral changes and recovery of activity were incomplete in the absence of reduced thiol. Full reconstitution of holoenzyme activity and stoichiometric H(4)B binding was achieved in the presence of 5 mm glutathione (GSH). Preincubation with GSH before the addition of H(4)B decreased, whereas lower concentrations of GSH extended, the time required for reconstitution. Six protected cysteine residues in pterin-free NOS were identified by labeling of NOS with cysteine-directed reagents before and after reduction with GSH. Heme and metal content of pterin-free and H(4)B-reconstituted NOS were also measured and were found to be independent of H(4)B content. Additionally, pterin-free NOS was reconstituted with 6-methylpterin analogs, including redox-stable deazapterins. Reconstitution with the redox-stable pterin analogs was neither time- nor thiol-dependent. Apparent binding constants were determined for the 6-methyl- (50 microm) and 6-ethoxymethyl (200 microm) deazapterins. The redox-stable pterin analogs appear to bind to NOS in a different manner than H(4)B.