[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The final step in heme biosynthesis, insertion of ferrous iron into protoporphyrin IX, is catalyzed by protoporphyrin IX ferrochelatase (EC 220.127.116.11). We demonstrate that pre-steady state human ferrochelatase (R115L) exhibits a stoichiometric burst of product formation and substrate consumption, consistent with a rate-determining step following metal ion chelation. Detailed analysis shows that chelation requires at least two steps, rapid binding followed by a slower (k approximately 1 s-1) irreversible step, provisionally assigned to metal ion chelation. Comparison with steady state data reveals that the rate-determining step in the overall reaction, conversion of free porphyrin to free metalloporphyrin, occurs after chelation and is most probably product release. We have measured rate constants for significant steps on the enzyme and demonstrate that metal ion chelation, with a rate constant of 0.96 s-1, is approximately 10 times faster than the rate-determining step in the steady state (kcat = 0.1 s-1). The effect of an additional E343D mutation is apparent at multiple stages in the reaction cycle with a 7-fold decrease in kcat and a 3-fold decrease in kchel. This conservative mutation primarily affects events occurring after metal ion chelation. Further evaluation of structure-function data on site-directed mutants will therefore require both steady state and pre-steady state approaches.