Purified uridine diphosphate N-acetylenolpyruvylglucosamine reductase (E.C. 184.108.40.206) was analyzed by circular dichroism (CD) and UV-visible spectroscopy to establish the spectral properties of its tightly bound flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD) cofactor. The polypeptide backbone displayed a single circular dichroic minimum at 208 nm and a single maximum at 193 nm. The CD spectrum of bound flavin exhibited a single major negative Cotton peak at 364 nm and two minor negative Cotton peaks at 464 and 495 nm. The protein was reversibly unfolded in 9.8 M urea and refolded in buffer in the presence of excess FAD. The refolded enzyme incorporated FAD and catalyzed full activity. The bound FAD displayed an absorption maximum at 464 nm with an extinction coefficient of epsilon 464 = 11700 M-1 cm-1. Anaerobic reduction with dithionite was complete at 1 equiv. Anaerobic reduction with nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate, reduced form (NADPH), also was essentially complete at 1 equiv and produced a long-wavelength absorbance band characteristic of an FAD-pyridine nucleotide charge transfer complex. Photochemical bleaching in the presence of ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) followed exponential kinetics. None of the anaerobic reductive titrations produced a spectral intermediate characteristic of a flavin semiquinone, and all reduced enzyme species could be fully reoxidized by oxygen, with full recovery of catalytic activity. Photochemically reduced enzyme was reoxidized by titration with either NADP+ or uridine diphospho N-acetylglucosamine enolpyruvate (UNAGEP). Reoxidation by NADP+ reached a chemical equilibrium, whereas reoxidation by UNAGEP was stoichiometric. Binding of NADP+ or UNAGEP to the oxidized form of the enzyme produced a dead-end complex that could be titrated by following a 10-nm red shift in the absorption spectrum of the bound FAD. The Kd of NADP+ for oxidized enzyme was 0.7 +/- 0.3 microM and the Kd of UNAGEP was 2.7 +/- 0.3 microM. Solvent deuterium isotope effects on binding were observed for both NADP+ and UNAGEP, depending on the pH. At pH 8.5, the HKd/DKd was 2.2 for NADP+ and 3.9 for UNAGEP. No spectral changes were observed in the presence of a 40-fold excess of uridine diphospho N-acetylmuramic acid (UNAM) either aerobically or anaerobically. These studies have identified spectral signals for five steps in the kinetic mechanism, have indicated that product formation is essentially irreversible, and have indicated that hydrogen bonding or protonation contributes significantly to ground-state complex formation with the physiological substrate.