Under strong light, photosystem II (PSII) of oxygenic photosynthetic organisms is inactivated, and this phenomenon is called photoinhibition. In a widely accepted model, photoinhibition is induced by excess light energy, which is absorbed by chlorophyll but not utilized in photosynthesis. Using monochromatic light from the Okazaki Large Spectrograph and thylakoid membranes from Thermosynechococcus elongatus, we observed that UV and blue light inactivated the oxygen-evolving complex much faster than the photochemical reaction center of PSII. These observations suggested that the light-induced damage was associated with a UV- and blue light-absorbing center in the oxygen-evolving complex of PSII. The action spectrum of the primary event in photodamage to PSII revealed the strong effects of UV and blue light and differed considerably from the absorption spectra of chlorophyll and thylakoid membranes. By contrast to the photoinduced inactivation of the oxygen-evolving complex in untreated thylakoid membranes, red light efficiently induced inactivation of the PSII reaction center in Tris-treated thylakoid membranes, and the action spectrum resembled the absorption spectrum of chlorophyll. Our observations suggest that photodamage to PSII occurs in two steps. Step 1 is the light-induced inactivation of the oxygen-evolving complex. Step 2, occurring after step 1 is complete, is the inactivation of the PSII reaction center by light absorbed by chlorophyll. We confirmed our model by illumination of untreated thylakoid membranes with blue and UV light, which inactivated the oxygen-evolving complex, and then with red light, which inactivated the photochemical reaction center.
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