Freezing, desiccation and high-temperature stress may under certain conditions result in inactivation of electron transport (DCIP reduction) and cyclic photophosphorylation of isolated chloroplast membranes of spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.). When sugars are present during temperature and water stress, the thylakoids may be partially or completely protected. This membrane stabilization depends on the concentration of sugars and their molecular size. The trisaccharide raffinose is, on a molar basis, more effective than the disaccharide sucrose and the latter more than the monosaccharide glucose. An uncoupling effect and a stimulation of electron transport can be observed during freezing, desiccation and heat treatment, e.g. electron transport reactions are less sensitive to temperature and water stress than is photophosphorylation. As sugars are known to accumulate in winter, unspecific membrane stabilization by sugars may help to explain the often reported parallel development of frost, drought and heat resistance in many plants during winter.