Heme-regulated eukaryotic initiation factor 2α (eIF2α) kinase (HRI) functions in response to the heme iron concentration. At the appropriate heme iron concentrations under normal conditions, HRI function is suppressed by binding of the heme iron. Conversely, upon heme iron shortage, HRI autophosphorylates and subsequently phosphorylates the substrate, eIF2α, leading to the termination of protein synthesis. The molecular mechanism of heme sensing by HRI, including identification of the specific binding site, remains to be established. In the present study we demonstrate that His-119/His-120 and Cys-409 are the axial ligands for the Fe(III)-protoporphyrin IX complex (hemin) in HRI, based on spectral data on site-directed mutant proteins. Cys-409 is part of the heme-regulatory Cys-Pro motif in the kinase domain. A P410A full-length mutant protein displayed loss of heme iron affinity. Surprisingly, inhibitory effects of the heme iron on catalysis and changes in the heme dissociation rate constants in full-length His-119/His-120 and Cys-409 mutant proteins were marginally different to wild type. In contrast, heme-induced inhibition of Cys-409 mutants of the isolated kinase domain and N-terminal-truncated proteins was substantially weaker than that of the full-length enzyme. A pulldown assay disclosed heme-dependent interactions between the N-terminal and kinase domains. Accordingly, we propose that heme regulation is induced by interactions between heme and the catalytic domain in conjunction with global tertiary structural changes at the N-terminal domain that accompany heme coordination and not merely by coordination of the heme iron with amino acids on the protein surface.