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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2000 Oct 29;355(1402):1351-9.

Balancing the two photosystems: photosynthetic electron transfer governs transcription of reaction centre genes in chloroplasts.

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  • 1Department of Plant Biochemistry, Lund University, Sweden.


Chloroplasts are cytoplasmic organelles whose primary function is photosynthesis, but which also contain small, specialized and quasi-autonomous genetic systems. In photosynthesis, two energy converting photosystems are connected, electrochemically, in series. The connecting electron carriers are oxidized by photosystem I (PS I) and reduced by photosystem II (PS II). It has recently been shown that the oxidation reduction state of one connecting electron carrier, plastoquinone, controls transcription of chloroplast genes for reaction centre proteins of the two photosystems. The control counteracts the imbalance in electron transport that causes it: oxidized plastoquinone induces PS II and represses PS I; reduced plastoquinone induces PS I and represses PS II. This complementarity is observed both in vivo, using light favouring one or other photosystem, and in vitro, when site-specific electron transport inhibitors are added to transcriptionally and photosynthetically active chloroplasts. There is thus a transcriptional level of control that has a regulatory function similar to that of purely post-translational 'state transitions' in which the redistribution of absorbed excitation energy between photosystems is mediated by thylakoid membrane protein phosphorylation. The changes in rates of transcription that are induced by spectral changes in vivo can be detected even before the corresponding state transitions are complete, suggesting the operation of a branched pathway of redox signal transduction. These findings suggest a mechanism for adjustment of photosystem stoichiometry in which initial events involve a sensor of the redox state of plastoquinone, and may thus be the same as the initial events of state transitions. Redox control of chloroplast transcription is also consistent with the proposal that a direct regulatory coupling between electron transport and gene expression determines the function and composition of the chloroplast's extra-nuclear genetic system.

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