Diruthenium-substituted Ru-Fe hybrid hemoglobins (Hb) were synthesized by heme substitution from protoheme to ruthenium (II) carbonyldeuteroporphyrin in the alpha or beta subunits. As the carbon monoxide coordinated to ruthenium (II) is not released under physiological conditions, deoxygenated Ru-Fe hybrid derivatives [alpha(Fe)2 beta(Ru-CO)2 and alpha(Ru-CO)2 beta(Fe)2] can serve as models for half-liganded Hbs. On the basis of proton NMR spectra of hyperfine-shifted proton resonances, these Ru-Fe hybrid Hbs have only small structural changes in the heme environment of the partner subunits at low pH. The proton NMR spectra of the intersubunit hydrogen-bonded protons also showed that the quaternary structures of the two complementary hybrids both remain in the "T-like state" at low pH, suggesting that the T to R structural conversion is induced by ligation of the third ligand molecule. Marked conformational changes in the heme vicinity are observed at high pH only for alpha(Ru-CO)2 beta(Fe)2, and its quaternary structure is converted into the "R state"; the alpha(Fe)2 beta(Ru-CO)2 hybrid does not undergo this change. This implies that the free-energy difference between the two quaternary states is smaller in the alpha-liganded hybrid than in the beta-liganded one.