Nitric oxide (.NO) is a recently discovered signaling agent which plays a role in many biological processes such as vasodilation and neuronal synaptic transmission. The only receptor characterized thus far for .NO is the soluble form of guanylate cyclase (sGC). .NO increases the Vmax of sGC by 100-200-fold, probably by interacting with a heme moiety on the enzyme. Although several procedures exist for purifying sGC, these procedures result in preparations with low heme contents. Using a novel procedure, the enzyme has been purified to homogeneity from bovine lung with a heme content of approximately 1 heme/heterodimer. The UV-visible spectrum of the enzyme contains a Soret peak centered at 431 nm and a single broad alpha/beta peak at 555 nm indicative of a 5-coordinate ferrous heme with histidine as the axial ligand. The heme moiety does not bind oxygen but will readily bind .NO to form a 5-coordinate complex or carbon monoxide (CO) to form a 6-coordinate complex. Oxidation of the heme with ferricyanide shifts the Soret to 393 nm, due most likely to the formation of a 5-coordinate ferric heme. In the ferric state, the heme will apparently not bind water but will bind cyanide with reduced affinity compared to methemoglobin and metmyoglobin. Purified enzyme containing 1 heme/heterodimer is activated 130-fold by .NO and 4.4-fold by CO.