Mobility of photosynthetic complexes in thylakoid membranes


The structures of many photosynthetic pigment–protein complexes have now been determined1,2,3,4,5,6, but a real understanding of the photosynthetic membrane at the molecular level will also require knowledge of the organization and dynamics of these complexes in the intact membrane. Using fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP)7 and a scanning confocal microscope, we have made direct measurements in vivo of the lateral diffusion of light-harvesting complexes and reaction centres in the thylakoid membranes of the cyanobacterium Dactylococcopsis salina8. We find that the phycobilisomes (the accessory light-harvesting complexes of cyanobacteria) diffuse quite rapidly, but that photosystem II is immobile on the timescale of the measurement, indicating that the linkage between phycobilisomes and photosystem II is unstable. We propose that the lateral diffusion of phycobilisomes is involved in regulation of photosynthetic light-harvesting (state 1–state 2 transitions). The mobility of the phycobilisomes may also be essential to allow the synthesis and repair of thylakoid membrane components.

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Figure 1: The geometry of our one-dimensional FRAP measurements.
Figure 2: Selected fluorescence images from typical sequences recorded before bleaching, immediately after bleaching, and at various times thereafter.
Figure 3: Selected one-dimensional bleaching profiles derived from the sequences of fluorescence images shown in Fig. 2 .
Figure 4: Calculation of the diffusion coefficient D for phycobilisomes from the time-dependence of the maximum bleach depth, C y = 0, t in the measurement series shown in Figs 2a and 3a .


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We thank A. E. Walsby for discussion and for the culture of Dactylococcopsis salina .

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Correspondence to Conrad W. Mullineaux.

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Mullineaux, C., Tobin, M. & Jones, G. Mobility of photosynthetic complexes in thylakoid membranes. Nature 390, 421–424 (1997).

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