In Synechococcus sp. strain PCC 7942 the D1 protein of Photosystem II is encoded by a multigene family; psbAI encodes Form I of D1 whereas both psbAII and psbAIII encode Form II. The psbA genes are differentially regulated in response to changes in light intensity, such that psbAI expression and Form I predominate at standard light intensity, whereas psbAII and psbAIII are induced at high light intensity, causing insertion of Form II into the thylakoids. The present study addressed whether high-light induced Form II is important for Synechococcus cells during adaptation to high light intensity. Wild-type Synechococcus, and mutants which produce only Form I (R2S2C3) or only Form II (R2K1), were co-cultured at standard light (130 μE · m(-2) · s(-1)) and then shifted to high light (750 μE·m(-2)·s(-1)). Measurement of the proportion of each cell type at various time intervals revealed that the growth of R2S2C3, which has psbAII and psbAIII inactive, and thus lacks Form II, is transiently impaired upon shift to high light. Both mutants R2S2C3 and R2K1 maintained normal levels of psbA messages and D1 protein under standard and high light through an unknown mechanism that compensates for the inactive psbA genes. Thus, the impairment of R2S2C3 at high light is not due to a deficiency of D1 protein, but results from lack of Form II. We discounted the influence of possible secondary mutations by re-creating the psbA-inactivated mutants and testing the newly isolated strains. We conclude that Form II of D1 is intrinsically important for Synechococcus cells during a critical transition period after exposure to high light intensities.