The periplasmic hydrogenase of Desulfovibrio vulgaris (Hildenbourough) is an all Fe-containing hydrogenase. It contains two ferredoxin type [4Fe-4S] clusters, termed the F clusters, and a catalytic H cluster. Recent X-ray crystallographic studies on two Fe hydrogenases revealed that the H cluster is composed of two sub-clusters, a [4Fe-4S] cluster ([4Fe-4S]H) and a binuclear Fe cluster ([2Fe]H), bridged by a cysteine sulfur. The aerobically purified D. vulgaris hydrogenase is stable in air. It is inactive and requires reductive activation. Upon reduction, the enzyme becomes sensitive to O2, indicating that the reductive activation process is irreversible. Previous EPR investigations showed that upon reoxidation (under argon) the H cluster exhibits a rhombic EPR signal that is not seen in the as-purified enzyme, suggesting a conformational change in association with the reductive activation. For the purpose of gaining more information on the electronic properties of this unique H cluster and to understand further the reductive activation process, variable-temperature and variable-field Mössbauer spectroscopy has been used to characterize the Fe-S clusters in D. vulgaris hydrogenase poised at different redox states generated during a reductive titration, and in the CO-reacted enzyme. The data were successfully decomposed into spectral components corresponding to the F and H clusters, and characteristic parameters describing the electronic and magnetic properties of the F and H clusters were obtained. Consistent with the X-ray crystallographic results, the spectra of the H cluster can be understood as originating from an exchange coupled [4Fe-4S]-[2Fe] system. In particular, detailed analysis of the data reveals that the reductive activation begins with reduction of the [4Fe-4S]H cluster from the 2+ to the 1+ state, followed by transfer of the reducing equivalent from the [4Fe-4S]H subcluster to the binuclear [2Fe]H subcluster. The results also reveal that binding of exogenous CO to the H cluster affects significantly the exchange coupling between the [4Fe-4S]H and the [2Fe]H subclusters. Implication of such a CO binding effect is discussed.