Balancing photosynthetic electron flow is critical for cyanobacterial acclimation to nitrogen limitation

Eitan Salomon, Leeat Bar-Eyal, Shir Sharon, Nir Keren*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Nitrogen limitation forces photosynthetic organisms to reallocate available nitrogen to essential functions. At the same time, it increases the probability of photo-damage by limiting the rate of energy-demanding metabolic processes, downstream of the photosynthetic apparatus. Non-diazotrophic cyanobacteria cope with this situation by decreasing the size of their phycobilisome antenna and by modifying their photosynthetic apparatus. These changes can serve two purposes: to provide extra amino-acids and to decrease excitation pressure. We examined the effects of nitrogen limitation on the form and function of the photosynthetic apparatus. Our aim was to study which of the two demands serve as the driving force for the remodeling of the photosynthetic apparatus, under different growth conditions. We found that a drastic reduction in light intensity allowed cells to maintain a more functional photosynthetic apparatus: the phycobilisome antenna was bigger, the activity of both photosystems was higher and the levels of photosystem (PS) proteins were higher. Pre-acclimating cells to Mn limitation, under which the activity of both PSI and PSII is diminished, results in a very similar response. The rate of PSII photoinhibition, in nitrogen limited cells, was found to be directly related to the activity of the photosynthetic apparatus. These data indicate that, under our experimental conditions, photo-damage avoidance was the more prominent determinant during the acclimation process. The combinations of limiting factors tested here is by no means artificial. Similar scenarios can take place under environmental conditions and should be taken into account when estimating nutrient limitations in nature.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)340-347
Number of pages8
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Bioenergetics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Israeli Science Foundation (grant no. 806/11 ).


  • Cyanobacteria
  • Mn limitation
  • Nitrogen limitation
  • Photoinhibition
  • Photosynthesis


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