D1 and D2 are structurally related proteins forming the core of the photosystem II reaction center. The two proteins have several loop regions including an extended stroma-exposed loop between transmembrane helix D and parallel helix de. This loop (the D-de loop) is phylogenetically conserved in both proteins. The role of the D-de loop in photosystem II was studied in Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 by constructing a chimeric D2 protein in which the stroma-exposed loop of D1 replaced that of D2. In one of the transgenic lines, a single-base deletion shifted the reading frame of the chimeric gene leading to loss of D2 accumulation and photosystem II assembly. Selection for spontaneous reversion to photoautotrophy yielded several suppressor mutants, five of which were analyzed. In all, further frameshifts in the inserted loop piece restored the original reading frame allowing readthrough to the normal carboxy terminus. However, the sequences in the restored D-de loop varied widely among the mutants. Changes ranged from a deletion of one amino acid residue to an insertion of 31, while the net charge of the D-de loop increased by up to 12 units. Mutant electron transfer rates and photoautotrophic growth were only mildly affected as compared to wild type. Nevertheless, in all mutants, the hydropathy profile of the stroma-exposed D-de loop region maintained its hydrophilic character including turns in similar locations. We conclude that the stroma-exposed, D-de loop of the D2 protein can accommodate drastic composition and size changes without extensive functional consequences in photosystem II. Hydrophilicity appears to be the major structural information encoded in this region.
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