CP29, a chlorophyll a/b-xanthophyll binding protein, bridges energy transfer between the major LHCII antenna complexes and photosystem II reaction centers. It hosts one of the two identified quenching sites, making it crucial for regulated photoprotection mechanisms. Until now, the photophysics of CP29 has been studied on the purified protein in detergent solutions since spectrally overlapping signals affect in vivo measurements. However, the protein in detergent assumes non-native conformations compared to its physiological state in the thylakoid membrane. Here, we report a detailed photophysical study on CP29 inserted in discoidal lipid bilayers, known as nanodiscs, which mimic the native membrane environment. Using picosecond time-resolved fluorescence and femtosecond transient absorption (TA), we observed shortening of the Chl fluorescence lifetime with a decrease of the carotenoid triplet formation yield for CP29 in nanodiscs as compared to the protein in detergent. Global analysis of TA data suggests a 1Chl* quenching mechanism dependent on excitation energy transfer to a carotenoid dark state, likely the proposed S*, which is believed to be formed due to a carotenoid conformational change affecting the S1 state. We suggest that the accessibility of the S* state in different local environments plays a key role in determining the quenching of Chl excited states. In vivo, non-photochemical quenching is activated by de-epoxidation of violaxanthin into zeaxanthin. CP29-zeaxanthin in nanodiscs further shortens the Chl lifetime, which underlines the critical role of zeaxanthin in modulating photoprotection activity.

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