Carbamoyl phosphate (CP) has been implicated as an educt for the synthesis of the CO and CN ligands of the metal centre of [NiFe]-hydrogenases in Escherichia coli, since CP synthetase mutants (carAB) are unable to generate active hydrogenases due to a block in enzyme maturation. Citrulline, when added to the growth medium in high concentrations, compensated for the phenotype of the mutants. It is now shown that overexpression of the argI gene lowered the effective concentration of citrulline, thus proving that the amino acid serves as a source for CP. The DeltaCarAB mutant accumulated a complex consisting of the hydrogenase maturation proteins HypC and HypD. This complex was resolved upon citrulline addition and followed-up by the appearance of a complex between HypC and the precursor of the large subunit of hydrogenase 3, preHycE. In the absence of the hycE gene, the HypC-HypD complex did not disappear upon addition of citrulline but developed into a form migrating slower in a non-denaturing polyacrylamide gel, providing strong evidence for the notion that the HypC-HypD complex is the intermediate in hydrogenase maturation where CP or its products are added to the iron atom of the metal centre. This step precedes nickel insertion, since extracts of carAB cells that had been cultivated in the absence of citrulline are unable to process preHycE after the addition of nickel. Complex formation between HypC and HypD, and between HypC and preHycE display dependence on identical primary structure elements of HypC. On the basis of the results, a cycle of HypC activity is proposed whose function is to transfer the iron atom that has been liganded at the HypC-HypD complex to the precursor of the large hydrogenase subunit.