PAC spectra (perturbed angular correlation of gamma-rays) of cadmium-substituted carboxypeptidase A (CPD) show that the enzyme in solution imposes a flexible, pH-and chloride-dependent coordination structure on the metal site, in contrast to what is found in the crystalline state. A much more restricted coordination geometry occurs for the steady-state peptide intermediates of Bz-Gly-L-Phe and Bz-Gly-L-Phe in solution, suggesting that substrate binding locks the structure in a rigid conformation. The results further indicate that the peptide intermediate has a six-coordinated metal coordination geometry with an OH- ligand at the solvent site and a carbonyl oxygen at an additional ligand site. In marked contrast, conformational rigidity is not induced by the inhibitor/poor substrate Gly-L-Tyr nor by the products of high turnover substrates, Bz-Gly, Bz-Gly-Gly, and L-Phe. These results are consistent with an intact scissile peptide bond in the enzyme-substrate complex of Bz-Gly-L-Phe and Bz-Gly-Gly-L-Phe. A single nuclear quadrupole interaction (NQI) is observed for the crystalline state of the enzyme between pH 5.7 and pH 9.4. This NQI agrees with calculations based on the metal coordination geometry for cadmium in crystalline CPD derived from X-ray diffraction studies. A single broad distribution of NQIs is observed for CPD in sucrose solutions and 0.1 M NaCl at pH values below 6.5. This NQI (NQI-1') has parameters very close to those for the crystalline state. The enzyme metal site, characterized by this NQI, is converted into two new enzyme metal sites over the pH range of 6.5-8.3. The metal coordination sphere of one of these has a NQI (NQI-1) with parameters similar to those at lower pH values (NQI-1') while the other NQI (NQI-2) is characterized by markedly different NQI parameters. Angular overlap model (AOM) calculations indicate that the coordination sites giving NQI-1' and NQI-1 both have a metal-bound water molecule while the coordination site giving NQI-2 has a metal-bound hydroxide ion, PAC results at pH 8.3-10.5 indicate that in this pH range the two metal coordination geometries related to NQI-1 and NQI-2 occur in a pH independent ratio of 2:1, with the one with the water ligand being the most abundant species. The observed pH-independent equilibrium between the two different metal coordination geometries for cadmium can be explained by an equilibrium between tautomeric forms of a hydrogen bond between the Glu-270 carboxyl group and the metal-bound water (Glu-270 COO-...(HOH)M reversible arrow Glu-270 COOH ...(OH-)M) being slow on the time scale of a PAC experiment, i.e., slower than 0.5 mu s. We finally suggest that NQI-1' observed at low pH reflects an enzyme species containing a metal-coordinated water molecule and the protonated carboxyl group of Glu-270.