CO dehydrogenase/acetyl-CoA synthase (CODH/ACS), a key enzyme in the Wood-Ljungdahl pathway of anaerobic CO(2) fixation, is a bifunctional enzyme containing CODH, which catalyzes the reversible two-electron oxidation of CO to CO(2), and ACS, which catalyzes acetyl-CoA synthesis from CoA, CO, and a methylated corrinoid iron-sulfur protein (CFeSP). ACS contains an active site nickel iron-sulfur cluster that forms a paramagnetic adduct with CO, called the nickel iron carbon (NiFeC) species, which we have hypothesized to be a key intermediate in acetyl-CoA synthesis. This hypothesis has been controversial. Here we report the results of steady-state kinetic experiments; stopped-flow and rapid freeze-quench transient kinetic studies; and kinetic simulations that directly test this hypothesis. Our results show that formation of the NiFeC intermediate occurs at approximately the same rate as, and its decay occurs 6-fold faster than, the rate of acetyl-CoA synthesis. Kinetic simulations of the steady-state and transient kinetic results accommodate the NiFeC species in the mechanism and define the rate constants for the elementary steps in acetyl-CoA synthesis. The combined results strongly support the kinetic competence of the NiFeC species in the Wood-Ljungdahl pathway. The results also imply that the methylation of ACS occurs by attack of the Ni(1+) site in the NiFeC intermediate on the methyl group of the methylated CFeSP. Our results indicate that CO inhibits acetyl-CoA synthesis by inhibiting this methyl transfer reaction. Under noninhibitory CO concentrations (below 100 microM), formation of the NiFeC species is rate-limiting, while at higher inhibitory CO concentrations, methyl transfer to ACS becomes rate-limiting.