Phycobilisomes (PBSs), the principal cyanobacterial antenna, are among the most efficient macromolecular structures in nature, and are used for both light harvesting and directed energy transfer to the photosynthetic reaction center. However, under unfavorable conditions, excess excitation energy needs to be rapidly dissipated to avoid photodamage. The orange carotenoid protein (OCP) senses light intensity and induces thermal energy dissipation under stress conditions. Hence, its expression must be tightly controlled; however, the molecular mechanism of this regulation remains to be elucidated. Here, we describe the discovery of a posttranscriptional regulatory mechanism in Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 in which the expression of the operon encoding the allophycocyanin subunits of the PBS is directly and in an inverse fashion linked to the expression of OCP. This regulation is mediated by ApcZ, a small regulatory RNA that is derived from the 3'-end of the tetracistronic apcABC-apcZ operon. ApcZ inhibits ocp translation under stress-free conditions. Under most stress conditions, apc operon transcription decreases and ocp translation increases. Thus, a key operon involved in the collection of light energy is functionally connected to the expression of a protein involved in energy dissipation. Our findings support the view that regulatory RNA networks in bacteria evolve through the functionalization of mRNA 3'-UTRs.
© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of American Society of Plant Biologists.