Photosynthesis uses sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide into biomass and oxygen. When in excess, light can be dangerous for the photosynthetic apparatus because it can cause photo-oxidative damage and decreases the efficiency of photosynthesis because of photoinhibition. Plants have evolved many photoprotective mechanisms in order to face reactive oxygen species production and thus avoid photoinhibition. These mechanisms include quenching of singlet and triplet excited states of chlorophyll, synthesis of antioxidant molecules and enzymes and repair processes for damaged photosystem II and photosystem I reaction centers. This review focuses on the mechanisms involved in photoprotection of chloroplasts through dissipation of energy absorbed in excess.
Elucidating the molecular details of qE (energy quenching) induction in higher plants has proven to be a major challenge. Identification of qE mutants has provided initial information on functional elements involved in the qE mechanism; furthermore, investigations on isolated pigment–protein complexes and analysis in vivo and in vitro by sophisticated spectroscopic methods have been used for the elucidation of mechanisms involved. The aim of the present review is to summarize the current knowledge of the phenotype of npq (non-photochemical quenching)-knockout mutants, the role of gene products involved in the qE process and compare the molecular models proposed for this process.