We studied the effect of UV-B radiation (280-320 nm) on the donor- and acceptor-side components of photosystem II in the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 by measuring the relaxation of flash-induced variable chlorophyll fluorescence. UV-B irradiation increases the t(1/2) of the decay components assigned to reoxidation of Q(A)(-) by Q(B) from 220 to 330 micros in centers which have the Q(B) site occupied, and from 3 to 6 ms in centers with the Q(B) site empty. In contrast, the t(1/2) of the slow component arising from recombination of the Q(A)Q(B)(-) state with the S(2) state of the water-oxidizing complex decreases from 13 to 1-2 s. In the presence of DCMU, fluorescence relaxation in nonirradiated cells is dominated by a 0.5-0.6 s component, which reflects Q(A)(-) recombination with the S(2) state. After UV-B irradiation, this is partially replaced by much faster components (t(1/2) approximately 800-900 micros and 8-10 ms) arising from recombination of Q(A)(-) with stabilized intermediate photosystem II donors, P680(+) and Tyr-Z(+). Measurement of fluorescence relaxation in the presence of different concentrations of DCMU revealed a 4-6-fold increase in the half-inhibitory concentration for electron transfer from Q(A) to Q(B). UV-B irradiation in the presence of DCMU reduces Q(A) in the majority (60%) of centers, but does not enhance the extent of UV-B damage beyond the level seen in the absence of DCMU, when Q(A) is mostly oxidized. Illumination with white light during UV-B treatment retards the inactivation of PSII. However, this ameliorating effect is not observed if de novo protein synthesis is blocked by lincomycin. We conclude that in intact cyanobacterium cells UV-B light impairs electron transfer from the Mn cluster of water oxidation to Tyr-Z(+) and P680(+) in the same way that has been observed in isolated systems. The donor-side damage of PSII is accompanied by a modification of the Q(B) site, which affects the binding of plastoquinone and electron transport inhibitors, but is not related to the presence of Q(A)(-). White light, at the intensity applied for culturing the cells, provides protection against UV-B-induced damage by enhancing protein synthesis-dependent repair of PSII.