Photosystem (PSII) is a supramolecular polypeptide complex found in oxygenic photosynthetic membranes, which is capable of extracting electrons from water for the reduction of plastoquinone. An intriguing feature of this assembly is the fact that it includes more than a dozen low-mass polypeptides of generally unknown function. Using a transplastomic approach, we have individually disrupted the genes of the psbEFLJoperon in Nicotiana tabacum, which encode four such polypeptides, without impairing expression of downstream loci of the operon. All four mutants exhibited distinct phenotypes; none of them was capable of photoautotrophic growth. All mutants bleached rapidly in the light. Disruption of psbEand psbF, which code for the alpha and beta apoproteins of cytochrome b(559), abolished PSII activity, as expected; Delta psbL and Delta psbJ plants displayed residual PSII activity in young leaves. Controlled partial solubilisation of thylakoid membranes uncovered surprisingly severe impairment of PSII structure, with subunit and assembly patterns varying depending on the mutant considered. In the Delta psbL mutant PSII was assembled primarily in a monomeric form, the homodimeric form was preponderant in Delta psbJ, and, unlike the case in Delta psbZ, the thylakoids of both mutants released some PSII supercomplexes. On the other hand, Photosystem I (PSI), the cytochrome b(6)f complex, ATP synthase, LHCII, and CP24/CP26/CP29 antennae were present in near wild-type levels. The data are discussed in terms of their implications for structural, biogenetic and functional aspects of PSII.