PloS one

Atomic force microscopy of photosystem II and its unit cell clustering quantitatively delineate the mesoscale variability in Arabidopsis thylakoids.

PMID 25007326


Photoautotrophic organisms efficiently regulate absorption of light energy to sustain photochemistry while promoting photoprotection. Photoprotection is achieved in part by triggering a series of dissipative processes termed non-photochemical quenching (NPQ), which depend on the re-organization of photosystem (PS) II supercomplexes in thylakoid membranes. Using atomic force microscopy, we characterized the structural attributes of grana thylakoids from Arabidopsis thaliana to correlate differences in PSII organization with the role of SOQ1, a recently discovered thylakoid protein that prevents formation of a slowly reversible NPQ state. We developed a statistical image analysis suite to discriminate disordered from crystalline particles and classify crystalline arrays according to their unit cell properties. Through detailed analysis of the local organization of PSII supercomplexes in ordered and disordered phases, we found evidence that interactions among light-harvesting antenna complexes are weakened in the absence of SOQ1, inducing protein rearrangements that favor larger separations between PSII complexes in the majority (disordered) phase and reshaping the PSII crystallization landscape. The features we observe are distinct from known protein rearrangements associated with NPQ, providing further support for a role of SOQ1 in a novel NPQ pathway. The particle clustering and unit cell methodology developed here is generalizable to multiple types of microscopy and will enable unbiased analysis and comparison of large data sets.