Photosynthesis Research

, Volume 116, Issue 2–3, pp 333–348 | Cite as

Membrane development in purple photosynthetic bacteria in response to alterations in light intensity and oxygen tension



Studies on membrane development in purple bacteria during adaptation to alterations in light intensity and oxygen tension are reviewed. Anoxygenic phototrophic such as the purple α-proteobacterium Rhodobacter sphaeroides have served as simple, dynamic, and experimentally accessible model organisms for studies of the photosynthetic apparatus. A major landmark in photosynthesis research, which dramatically illustrates this point, was provided by the determination of the X-ray structure of the reaction center (RC) in Blastochloris viridis (Deisenhofer and Michel, EMBO J 8:2149–2170, 1989), once it was realized that this represented the general structure for the photosystem II RC present in all oxygenic phototrophs. This seminal advance, together with a considerable body of subsequent research on the light-harvesting (LH) and electron transfer components of the photosynthetic apparatus has provided a firm basis for the current understanding of how phototrophs acclimate to alterations in light intensity and quality. Oxygenic phototrophs adapt to these changes by extensive thylakoid membrane remodeling, which results in a dramatic supramolecular reordering to assure that an appropriate flow of quinone redox species occurs within the membrane bilayer for efficient and rapid electron transfer. Despite the high level of photosynthetic unit organization in Rba. sphaeroides as observed by atomic force microscopy (AFM), fluorescence induction/relaxation measurements have demonstrated that the addition of the peripheral LH2 antenna complex in cells adapting to low-intensity illumination results in a slowing of the rate of electron transfer turnover by the RC of up to an order of magnitude. This is ascribed to constraints in quinone redox species diffusion between the RC and cytochrome bc 1 complexes arising from the increased packing density as the intracytoplasmic membrane (ICM) bilayer becomes crowded with LH2 rings. In addition to downshifts in light intensity as a paradigm for membrane development studies in Rba. sphaeroides, the lowering of oxygen tension in chemoheterotropically growing cells results in a gratuitous formation of the ICM by an extensive membrane biogenesis process. These membrane alterations in response to lowered illumination and oxygen levels in purple bacteria are under the control of a number of interrelated two-component regulatory circuits reviewed here, which act at the transcriptional level to regulate the formation of both the pigment and apoprotein components of the LH, RC, and respiratory complexes. We have performed a proteomic examination of the ICM development process in which membrane proteins have been identified that are temporally expressed both during adaptation to low light intensity and ICM formation at low aeration and are spatially localized in both growing and mature ICM regions. For these proteomic analyses, membrane growth initiation sites and mature ICM vesicles were isolated as respective upper-pigmented band (UPB) and chromatophore fractions and subjected to clear native electrophoresis for isolation of bands containing the LH2 and RC–LH1 core complexes. In chromatophores, increasing levels of LH2 polypeptides relative to those of the RC–LH1 complex were observed as ICM membrane development proceeded during light-intensity downshifts, along with a large array of other associated proteins including high spectral counts for the F1FO–ATP synthase subunits and the cytochrome bc 1 complex, as well as RSP6124, a protein of unknown function, that was correlated with increasing LH2 spectral counts. In contrast, the UPB was enriched in cytoplasmic membrane (CM) markers, including electron transfer and transport proteins, as well as general membrane protein assembly factors confirming the origin of the UPB from both peripheral respiratory membrane and sites of active CM invagination that give rise to the ICM. The changes in ICM vesicles were correlated to AFM mapping results (Adams and Hunter, Biochim Biophys Acta 1817:1616–1627, 2012), in which the increasing LH2 levels were shown to form densely packed LH2-only domains, representing the light-responsive antenna complement formed under low illumination. The advances described here could never have been envisioned when the author was first introduced in the mid-1960s to the intricacies of the photosynthetic apparatus during a lecture delivered in a graduate Biochemistry course at the University of Illinois by Govindjee, to whom this volume is dedicated on the occasion of his 80th birthday.


Light-harvesting complexes Light regulation Oxygen regulation Proteomics Reaction centers Rhodobacter sphaeroides 



Atomic force microscopy


Bacteriochlorophyll a




Cytoplasmic membrane


Fluorescence induction and relaxation


Fast repetition rate fluorescence


Intracytoplasmic membrane


Light harvesting


Core light-harvesting complex


Peripheral light-harvesting complex


Photosystem I


Photosystem II


Primary reaction center ubiquinone


Secondary reaction center ubiquinone


Photochemical reaction center


Upper-pigmented band





Work in the author’s laboratory was supported by grants from the U. S. Department of Energy (Grant No. DE-FG02-08ER15957 from the Chemical Sciences, Geosciences and Biosciences Division, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Office of Science) and the National Science Foundation (Subaward No. 12-764). I thank Kamil Woronowicz, Raoul Frese, Oluwatobi B. Olubanjo, and Daniel Sha for their participation in these studies.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Molecular Biology and BiochemistryRutgers UniversityPiscatawayUSA

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