Photosynthesis Research

, Volume 101, Issue 2–3, pp 217–232 | Cite as

Delayed fluorescence in photosynthesis

  • Vasilij Goltsev
  • Ivelina Zaharieva
  • Petko Chernev
  • Reto J. Strasser


Photosynthesis is a very efficient photochemical process. Nevertheless, plants emit some of the absorbed energy as light quanta. This luminescence is emitted, predominantly, by excited chlorophyll a molecules in the light-harvesting antenna, associated with Photosystem II (PS II) reaction centers. The emission that occurs before the utilization of the excitation energy in the primary photochemical reaction is called prompt fluorescence. Light emission can also be observed from repopulated excited chlorophylls as a result of recombination of the charge pairs. In this case, some time-dependent redox reactions occur before the excitation of the chlorophyll. This delays the light emission and provides the name for this phenomenon—delayed fluorescence (DF), or delayed light emission (DLE). The DF intensity is a decreasing polyphasic function of the time after illumination, which reflects the kinetics of electron transport reactions both on the (electron) donor and the (electron) acceptor sides of PS II. Two main experimental approaches are used for DF measurements: (a) recording of the DF decay in the dark after a single turnover flash or after continuous light excitation and (b) recording of the DF intensity during light adaptation of the photosynthesizing samples (induction curves), following a period of darkness. In this paper we review historical data on DF research and recent advances in the understanding of the relation between the delayed fluorescence and specific reactions in PS II. An experimental method for simultaneous recording of the induction transients of prompt and delayed chlorophyll fluorescence and decay curves of DF in the millisecond time domain is discussed.


Delayed (chlorophyll) fluorescence Chlorophyll fluorescence Photosystem II (PS II) Reaction center Charge recombination Electron transport 



Excited state of a chlorophyll molecule


Delayed (chlorophyll) fluorescence


Electron transport


Fluorescence intensity when all the reaction centers are assumed to be open, at the “O” level


Fluorescence intensity at ~3 ms


Fluorescence intensity at ~30 ms


Maximal measured fluorescence intensity, at the “P” level


Induction curve


Delayed fluorescence intensity


Primary (chlorophyll) electron donor of PS I


Primary (chlorophyll) electron donor of PS II


Pheophytin on D1 protein of PS II


Prompt (chlorophyll) fluorescence






Primary quinone (electron) acceptor of PS II


Secondary quinone (electron) acceptor of PS II


Reaction center

Z (also called Yz)

Secondary (electron) donor in PS II, Tyr-161 of the D1 protein of PS II



We thank the Bulgarian National Science Fund, Project No. DO 02-137/15.12.2008 for the financial support. R.J.S acknowledges support by the Swiss National Science Foundation, Project Nr: 200021-116765. We thank Detelin Stefanov for critical reading of the manuscript. The paper was written while I.Z. was working at the Free University in Berlin on an Alexander von Humboldt fellowship. This review was edited by Govindjee. We thank him for many suggestions that have improved this review.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vasilij Goltsev
    • 1
  • Ivelina Zaharieva
    • 1
    • 2
  • Petko Chernev
    • 1
  • Reto J. Strasser
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Biophysics and Radiobiology, Faculty of BiologySt. Kliment Ohridski University of SofiaSofiaBulgaria
  2. 2.Freie Universität Berlin, Fachbereich PhysikBerlinGermany
  3. 3.Bioenergetics LaboratoryUniversity of GenevaJussy-GenevaSwitzerland

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