The effect of high temperature on higher plants is primarily on photosynthetic functions. The heat tolerance limit of leaves of higher plants coincides with (and appears to be determined by) the thermal sensitivity of primary photochemical reactions occurring in the thylakoid membrane system. Tolerance limits vary between genotypes, but are also subject to acclimation. Long-term acclimations can be superimposed upon fast adaptive adjustment of the thermal stability, occurring in the time range of a few hours. Light causes an increase in tolerance to heat, and this stabilization is related to the light-induced proton gradient. In addition to irreversible effects, high temperature may also cause large, reversible effects on the rate of photosynthesis. We report here some studies of photosynthetic gas exchange and chlorophyll fluorescence, designed to examine the energetic balance between photosynthetic carbon metabolism and light reactions during steady state photosynthesis with leaves of cotton plants at different temperatures. At temperatures exceeding the optimum for assimilation, but well below the tolerance limit, the feedback control of light reactions by carbon metabolism declines, as additional dissipative processes become important. Energy dissipated by photorespiration can exceed that consumed by CO2 assimilation, and a reversible, temperature-induced non-photochemical 'quenching' process, related to 'spillover' of excitation energy to photosystem 1, decreases the efficiency of photosystem 2 with increasing temperature. However, despite the overall decline in the 'potential quantum efficiency', our analysis indicates that CO2 assimilation may be limited, in part, at high temperature by an imbalance in the regulation of the carbon metabolism, which is reflected in a 'down-regulation' of the ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase.