The recovery process after chilling-induced photoinhibition of photosystem I (PSI) was studied in leaves of a chilling-sensitive plant, cucumber (Cucumis sativus L. cv. Nanshin). Determination of chlorophyll content, photosystem (PS) activities in vivo and in vitro, and the amount of reaction-center subunits of PSI revealed that: (i) The content of chlorophyll decreased to 70% of the original level gradually from 1 to 3 days after exposure to a low temperature. (ii) The amount of functional PSI per unit leaf area was reduced to 30% of the initial level by the chilling treatment. The amount of functional PSI gradually increased during the next 6 days but only to 50% of the original level. (iii) When expressed on a chlorophyll basis, however, the amount of functional PSI recovered to 90% of the original level 6 days after the treatment. (iv) The residual amount of chlorophyll on the third day after the treatment closely correlated with the amount of functional PSI at that point. These results indicate that the decrease in chlorophyll content at a normal growth temperature after chilling treatment is a consequence of the degradation of irreversibly damaged PSI complexes. Immunoblot analysis confirmed that PsaAB protein, the reaction-center subunits of PSI, was degraded during the 3 days after chilling treatment. Some characteristics of the chilling injury frequently reported, i.e. irreversibility of the injury and development of visible symptoms at room temperature, can be explained as a consequence of the chilling-induced photoinhibition of PSI.
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