Plastocyanin is one of the best characterized of the photosynthetic electron transfer proteins. Since the determination of the structure of poplar plastocyanin in 1978, the structure of algal (Scenedesmus, Enteromorpha, Chlamydomonas) and plant (French bean) plastocyanins has been determined either by crystallographic or NMR methods, and the poplar structure has been refined to 1.33 A resolution. Despite the sequence divergence among plastocyanins of algae and vascular plants (e.g., 62% sequence identity between the Chlamydomonas and poplar proteins), the three-dimensional structures are remarkably conserved (e.g., 0.76 A rms deviation in the C alpha positions between the Chlamydomonas and poplar proteins). Structural features include a distorted tetrahedral copper binding site at one end of an eight-stranded antiparallel beta-barrel, a pronounced negative patch, and a flat hydrophobic surface. The copper site is optimized for its electron transfer function, and the negative and hydrophobic patches are proposed to be involved in recognition of physiological reaction partners. Chemical modification, cross-linking, and site-directed mutagenesis experiments have confirmed the importance of the negative and hydrophobic patches in binding interactions with cytochrome f and Photosystem I, and validated the model of two functionally significant electron transfer paths in plastocyanin. One putative electron transfer path is relatively short (approximately 4 A) and involves the solvent-exposed copper ligand His-87 in the hydrophobic patch, while the other is more lengthy (approximately 12-15 A) and involves the nearly conserved residue Tyr-83 in the negative patch.