Cyanobacteria have developed a photoprotective mechanism that decreases the energy arriving at the photosynthetic reaction centers under high-light conditions. The photoactive orange carotenoid protein (OCP) is essential in this mechanism as a light sensor and energy quencher. When OCP is photoactivated by strong blue-green light, it is able to dissipate excess energy as heat by interacting with phycobilisomes. As a consequence, charge separation and recombination leading to the formation of singlet oxygen diminishes. Here, we demonstrate that OCP has another essential role. We observed that OCP also protects Synechocystis cells from strong orange-red light, a condition in which OCP is not photoactivated. We first showed that this photoprotection is related to a decrease of singlet oxygen concentration due to OCP action. Then, we demonstrated that, in vitro, OCP is a very good singlet oxygen quencher. By contrast, another carotenoid protein having a high similarity with the N-terminal domain of OCP is not more efficient as a singlet oxygen quencher than a protein without carotenoid. Although OCP is a soluble protein, it is able to quench the singlet oxygen generated in the thylakoid membranes. Thus, OCP has dual and complementary photoprotective functions as an energy quencher and a singlet oxygen quencher.
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