Cryo-EM structure of a plant photosystem II supercomplex with light-harvesting protein Lhcb8 and α-tocopherol

Nat Plants. 2023 Aug;9(8):1359-1369. doi: 10.1038/s41477-023-01483-0. Epub 2023 Aug 7.


The heart of oxygenic photosynthesis is the water-splitting photosystem II (PSII), which forms supercomplexes with a variable amount of peripheral trimeric light-harvesting complexes (LHCII). Our knowledge of the structure of green plant PSII supercomplex is based on findings obtained from several representatives of green algae and flowering plants; however, data from a non-flowering plant are currently missing. Here we report a cryo-electron microscopy structure of PSII supercomplex from spruce, a representative of non-flowering land plants, at 2.8 Å resolution. Compared with flowering plants, PSII supercomplex in spruce contains an additional Ycf12 subunit, Lhcb4 protein is replaced by Lhcb8, and trimeric LHCII is present as a homotrimer of Lhcb1. Unexpectedly, we have found α-tocopherol (α-Toc)/α-tocopherolquinone (α-TQ) at the boundary between the LHCII trimer and the inner antenna CP43. The molecule of α-Toc/α-TQ is located close to chlorophyll a614 of one of the Lhcb1 proteins and its chromanol/quinone head is exposed to the thylakoid lumen. The position of α-Toc in PSII supercomplex makes it an ideal candidate for the sensor of excessive light, as α-Toc can be oxidized to α-TQ by high-light-induced singlet oxygen at low lumenal pH. The molecule of α-TQ appears to shift slightly into the PSII supercomplex, which could trigger important structure-functional modifications in PSII supercomplex. Inspection of the previously reported cryo-electron microscopy maps of PSII supercomplexes indicates that α-Toc/α-TQ can be present at the same site also in PSII supercomplexes from flowering plants, but its identification in the previous studies has been hindered by insufficient resolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cryoelectron Microscopy
  • Photosynthesis
  • Photosystem II Protein Complex* / metabolism
  • Plants / metabolism
  • Thylakoids / metabolism
  • alpha-Tocopherol* / analysis
  • alpha-Tocopherol* / metabolism


  • Photosystem II Protein Complex
  • alpha-Tocopherol