Calbindin D9k exhibits cooperative binding of two calcium ions, hence study of the half-saturated states of the protein is critical to understanding the binding process. However, the half-saturated states are not significantly populated under equilibrium conditions. To circumvent this problem, an absolutely conserved glutamic acid residue in the C-terminal binding site (site II) has been mutated to glutamine (E65Q), causing a substantial reduction in calcium affinity and permitting detailed two-dimensional 1H NMR analysis of calbindin D9k with a calcium ion bound only in the N-terminal EF-hand. Complete 1H resonance assignments have been obtained for (Ca2+)1 E65Q, as well as near complete assignments for the apo and (Ca2+)2 states. A value of 1.1(+/- 0.2) x 10(3) M-1 has been determined for the calcium binding constant in site II, from an analysis of the chemical shift changes in response to titration with calcium. The elements of secondary structure and global folding patterns were identified from nuclear Overhauser effects, backbone spin-spin coupling constants and the exchange rates of backbone amide protons. Although the mutation has only very small effects on the secondary structure and global fold of the protein, it so drastically lowers affinity for Ca2+ in the C-terminal site that (Ca2+)2 E65Q does not correspond to a standard (Ca2+)2 state. From the analysis of the half-saturated state, it is apparent that some reorganization of the structure and changes in the internal dynamics of calbindin D9k does occur for each step of the apo-->(Ca2+)1(I)-->(Ca2+)2 binding pathway. When the first ion is bound to the N-terminal EF-hand, that half of the molecule adopts a conformation and dynamic state similar to the fully calcium-loaded protein state, whereas only minor changes occur in the C-terminal EF-hand. It is only upon binding of the second calcium ion that the C-terminal EF-hand switches over to the fully calcium-loaded state. Together with the results from our earlier study of the apo-->(Ca2+)1(II)-->(Ca2+)2 binding pathway, these findings indicate that changes in protein conformation and dynamics associated with Ca2+ binding contribute to the observed positive cooperativity, and that the molecular details of the cooperative binding events are different for the two binding pathways.