Resonance Raman (RR) spectroscopy, molecular mechanics (MM) calculations, and normal-coordinate structural decomposition (NSD) have been used to investigate the conformational differences in the hemes in ferricytochromes c3. NSD analyses of heme structures obtained from X-ray crystallography and MM calculations of heme-peptide fragments of the cytochromes c3 indicate that the nonplanarity of the hemes is largely controlled by a fingerprint peptide segment consisting of two heme-linked cysteines, the amino acids between the cysteines, and the proximal histidine ligand. Additional interactions between the heme and the distal histidine ligand and between the heme propionates and the protein also influence the heme conformation, but to a lesser extent than the fingerprint peptide segment. In addition, factors that influence the folding pattern of the fingerprint peptide segment may have an effect on the heme conformation. Large heme structural differences between the baculatum cytochromes c3 and the other proteins are uncovered by the NSD procedure [Jentzen, W., Ma, J.- G, and Shelnutt, J. A. (1998) Biophys. J. 74, 753-763]. These heme differences are mainly associated with the deletion of two residues in the covalently linked segment of hemes 4 for the baculatum proteins. Furthermore, some of these structural differences are reflected in the RR spectra. For example, the frequencies of the structure-sensitive lines (v4, v3, and v2) in the high-frequency region of the RR spectra are lower for the Desulfomicrobium baculatum cytochromes c3 (Norway 4 and 9974) than for the Desulfovibrio (D.) gigas, D. vulgaris, and D. desulfuricans strains, consistent with a more ruffled heme. Spectral decompositions of the v3 and v10 lines allow the assignment of the sublines to individual hemes and show that ruffling, not saddling, is the dominant factor influencing the frequencies of the structure-sensitive Raman lines. The distinctive spectra of the baculatum strains investigated are a consequence of hemes 2 and 4 being more ruffled than is typical of the other proteins.