How Protein Disorder Controls Non-Photochemical Fluorescence Quenching

  • Tjaart P. J. KrügerEmail author
  • Cristian Ilioaia
  • Peter Horton
  • Maxime T. A. Alexandre
  • Rienk van Grondelle
Part of the Advances in Photosynthesis and Respiration book series (AIPH, volume 40)


We discuss the de-excitation of electronically excited states of chlorophyll a, monitored via non-photochemical quenching (NPQ) of chlorophyll fluorescence, with respect to (i) involvement of the main light-harvesting complex of photosystem II (LHCII trimers) and (ii) a change in pigment properties following a change in the conformation of this protein complex. We suggest that LHCII exhibits dynamic behavior arising from a fundamental property of proteins, i.e., their intrinsic disorder. Photosynthetic pigment-protein complexes, such as LHCII, constitute complex environments. The pigments responsible for absorption and subsequent transfer of light energy are subject to multiple interactions in a highly heterogeneous protein environment. This feature gives rise to an intrinsic structural and energetic disorder of the pigment-protein complexes as well as complicated dynamics of excitation-energy transfer within the complexes. In particular, individual complexes show rapid and reversible quenching on timescales of milliseconds to minutes. We propose that plants employ this intrinsic capacity to reversibly switch between unquenched and quenched states to control the de-excitation (i.e., thermal dissipation) of potentially harmful excess excitation energy. Modulation of de-excitation by the local environment of pigment complexes will be demonstrated, with a particular focus on how this modulation manifests itself as chlorophyll fluorescence quenching of individually measured LHCII trimers. It will be shown how the results point to the concept of environmentally controlled disorder as a basis for the energy-dependent component of NPQ, i.e., that the intrinsic capacity of a pigment-protein complex to rapidly switch between light-harvesting and dissipating states can be controlled by the local environment of the complex. This can be explained by assuming that pigment-protein complexes are in an unstable equilibrium between different structural and corresponding emissive states, where subtle perturbations in the physico-chemical environment can shift the equilibrium to favor one or more of these states. As such, regulation of a disordered conformational nanoswitch provides a satisfying explanation for NPQ.


Dissipative State Thermal Energy Dissipation LHCII Trimer Conformational Selection LHCII Complex 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.





Charge transfer




Degree of thermal energy dissipation of a single complex

KD = IU/IQ − 1

Where IU and IQ refer to the fluorescence intensity in the unquenched and quenched environments, respectively




Light harvesting


Light-harvesting complex of photosystem I


Light-harvesting complex of photosystem II


Major light-harvesting complex II of plants


Non-photochemical quenching of chlorophyll a fluorescence


Photosystem I


Photosystem II


Energy-dependent component of NPQ


Reaction center


First excited state


Single-molecule spectroscopy


n-dodecyl-β, D-maltoside









This work was supported by the EU FP6 Marie Curie Early Stage Training Network via the Advanced Training in Laser Sciences project (T.P.J.K.); EU FP7 Marie Curie Reintegration Grant (ERG 224796) (C.I.); CEA-Eurotalents program (European contract PCOFUND-GA-2008-228664) (C.I.); Project Sunshine, University of Sheffield (P.H.); TOP grant (700.58.305) from the Foundation of Chemical Sciences, part of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (C.I. and R.v.G.); Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research program in Fundamental Research of Matter (The Thylakoid Membrane: A Dynamic Switch; FP126; 12.0344) (M.T.A.A. and R.v.G); Advanced Investigator Grant (267333, PHOTPROT) from the European Research Council (ERC) (C.I., T.P.J.K., and R.v.G.).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tjaart P. J. Krüger
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Cristian Ilioaia
    • 1
    • 3
  • Peter Horton
    • 4
  • Maxime T. A. Alexandre
    • 1
  • Rienk van Grondelle
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Physics and Astronomy, Faculty of SciencesVU University AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Physics, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural SciencesUniversity of PretoriaHatfieldSouth Africa
  3. 3.Commisariat à l’Energie Atomique (CEA)Institut de Biologie et Technologies de Saclay and CNRS URA 2096Gif-sur-YvetteFrance
  4. 4.Department of Molecular Biology and BiotechnologyUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK

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