The thermal denaturation of the photosystem II (PSII) membrane protein complex is investigated by assigning the endothermic transitions observed by differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) to the denaturation of particular proteins of the PSII complex. In a prior DSC study of PSII membranes [Thompson, L. K., Sturtevant, J. M., & Brudvig, G. W. (1986) Biochemistry 25, 6161], five DSC peaks were observed in the 30-70 degrees C temperature range (A1, A2, B, C, and D). The A2 peak was assigned to denaturation of a component essential for water oxidation and the B peak to denaturation of a component critical to the remainder of the electron-transport chain. We have now extended these studies with thermal gel analysis and electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) measurements. Thermal gel analysis, a technique which relies on a change in the solubility properties of a membrane protein upon denaturation, has been used to determine the temperatures of denaturation of all of the major membrane proteins of the PSII complex. EPR experiments have been used to monitor chlorophyll photooxidation and the stability of TyrD+. Peaks B, C, and D in the DSC denaturation profile are each assigned to the denaturation of several proteins, which provides information on the organization of the PSII complex into structural and functional units. Peak B corresponds to the denaturation of peripheral core proteins and closely associated antenna proteins, peak C to the PSII core, and peak D to the loosely associated antenna proteins. No membrane protein is observed to denature during the A2 peak. The A2 peak is altered by the presence of catalase, superoxide dismutase, low chloride, and high pH. These results suggest that the abnormally sharp A2 peak occurs when the highly oxidizing, sequestered Mn complex (the active site in water oxidation) becomes accessible to the aqueous phase, at elevated temperatures. We propose a mechanism for the reaction of the Mn complex with hydroxide ions, which involves peroxide or superoxide and results in the reduction and release of Mn. The proposed model provides insight into the well-known instability of the Mn complex and the role of chloride in stabilizing the complex. This may enable the future development of purification procedures and may explain the sensitivity of the water-oxidizing apparatus of PSII to heat denaturation.