Thermophilic cyanobacteria of the genus Synechococcus are major contributors to photosynthetic carbon fixation in the photic zone of microbial mats in Octopus Spring, Yellowstone National Park. Synechococcus OS-B' was characterized with regard to the ability to acclimate to a range of different light irradiances; it grows well at 25 to 200 micromol photons m(-2) s(-1) but dies when the irradiance is increased to 400 micromol photons m(-2) s(-1). At 200 micromol photons m(-2) s(-1) (high light [HL]), we noted several responses that had previously been associated with HL acclimation of cyanobacteria, including cell bleaching, reduced levels of phycobilisomes and chlorophyll, and elevated levels of a specific carotenoid. Synechococcus OS-B' synthesizes the carotenoids zeaxanthin and beta,beta-carotene and a novel myxol-anhydrohexoside. Interestingly, 77-K fluorescence emission spectra suggest that Synechococcus OS-B' accumulates very small amounts of photosystem II relative to that of photosystem I. This ratio further decreased at higher growth irradiances, which may reflect potential photodamage following exposure to HL. We also noted that HL caused reduced levels of transcripts encoding phycobilisome components, particularly that for CpcH, a 20.5-kDa rod linker polypeptide. There was enhanced transcript abundance of genes encoding terminal oxidases, superoxide dismutase, tocopherol cyclase, and phytoene desaturase. Genes encoding the photosystem II D1:1 and D1:2 isoforms (psbAI and psbAII/psbAIII, respectively) were also regulated according to the light regimen. The results are discussed in the context of how Synechococcus OS-B' may cope with high light irradiances in the high-temperature environment of the microbial mat.