The mechanism of D1 protein degradation was investigated during photoinhibitory illumination of isolated photosystem II core preparations. The studies revealed that a proteolytic activity resides within the photosystem II core complex. A relationship between the inhibition of D1 protein degradation and the binding of the highly specific serine protease inhibitor diisopropyl fluorophosphate to isolated complexes of photosystem II was observed, evidence that this protease is of the serine type. Using radiolabeled inhibitor, it was shown that the binding site, representing the active serine of the catalytic site, is located on a 43-kDa polypeptide, probably the chlorophyll a protein CP43. The protease is apparently active in darkness, with the initiation of breakdown being dependent on high light-induced substrate activation. The proteolysis, which has an optimum at pH 7.5, gives rise to primary degradation fragments of 23 and 16 kDa. In addition, D1 protein fragments of 14, 13, and 10 kDa were identified. Experiments with phosphate-labeled D1 protein and sequence-specific antisera showed that the 23- and 16-kDa fragments originate from the N- and C-termini, respectively, suggesting a primary cleavage of the D1 protein at the outer thylakoid surface in the region between transmembrane helices D and E.