A 23-kDa breakdown product, containing the N terminus of the D1 protein, has been detected after photoinhibitory treatment of isolated photosystem II (PSII) reaction centers. The ability to induce charge separation in the reaction center and the presence of oxygen seem to be required for the generation of this fragment. It is suggested that, under these conditions, the initial light-induced damage to the complex occurs via singlet oxygen generated by the P680 triplet state and contrasts with the situation when an electron acceptor is present and donor-side photoinhibition gives rise to a 24-kDa C-terminal fragment of the D1 protein. The temperature sensitivity of the appearance of the 23-kDa N-terminal fragment suggests that the cleavage is not by a direct photochemical process but that it is proteolytic in nature, being triggered possibly by a conformational change induced by singlet oxygen-mediated photodestruction of the P680 chlorophylls. The existence of an intrinsic serine-type protease, within the reaction center itself, is supported by inhibition of the appearance of the 23-kDa N-terminal fragment by stoichiometric levels of soybean trypsin inhibitor. It seems likely that the 23-kDa N-terminal fragment which we have detected is the same as that identified in vivo by Greenberg et al. [Greenberg, B. M., Gaba, V., Mattoo, A. K., & Edelman, M. (1987) EMBO J. 6, 2865-2869] and originates from the acceptor-side mechanism advocated by Vass et al. [Vass, I., Styring, S., Hundal, T., Koivuniemi, A., Aro, E.-M., & Andersson, B. (1992) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 89, 1408-1412].