Three pulse echo peak shift and transient grating (TG) measurements on the plant light-harvesting complexes LHCII and CP29 are reported. The LHCII complex is by far the most abundant light-harvesting complex in higher plants and fulfills several important physiological functions such as light-harvesting and photoprotection. Our study is focused on the light-harvesting function of LHCII and the very similar CP29 complex and reveals hitherto unresolved excitation energy transfer processes. All measurements were performed at room temperature using detergent isolated complexes from spinach leaves. Both complexes were excited in their Chl b band at 650 nm and in the blue shoulder of the Chl a band at 670 nm. Exponential fits to the TG and three pulse echo peak shift decay curves were used to estimate the timescales of the observed energy transfer processes. At 650 nm, the TG decay can be described with time constants of 130 fs and 2.2 ps for CP29, and 300 fs and 2.8 ps for LHCII. At 670 nm, the TG shows decay components of 230 fs and 6 ps for LHCII, and 300 fs and 5 ps for CP29. These time constants correspond to well-known energy transfer processes, from Chl b to Chl a for the 650 nm TG and from blue (670 nm) Chl a to red (680 nm) Chl a for the 670 nm TG. The peak shift decay times are entirely different. At 650 nm we find times of 150 fs and 0.5-1 ps for LHCII, and 360 fs and 3 ps for CP29, which we can associate mainly with Chl b ↔ Chl b energy transfer. At 670 nm we find times of 140 fs and 3 ps for LHCII, and 3 ps for CP29, which we can associate with fast (only in LHCII) and slow transfer between relatively blue Chls a or Chl a states. From the occurrence of both fast Chl b ↔ Chl b and fast Chl b → Chl a transfer in CP29, we conclude that at least two mixed binding sites are present in this complex. A detailed comparison of our observed rates with exciton calculations on both CP29 and LHCII provides us with more insight in the location of these mixed sites. Most importantly, for CP29, we find that a Chl b pair must be present in some, but not all, complexes, on sites A3 and B3. For LHCII, the observed rates can best be understood if the same pair, A3 and B3, is involved in both fast Chl b ↔ Chl b and fast Chl a ↔ Chl a transfer. Hence, it is likely that mixed sites also occur in the native LHCII complex. Such flexibility in chlorophyll binding would agree with the general flexibility in aggregation form and xanthophyll binding of the LHCII complex and could be of use for optimizing the role of LHCII under specific circumstances, for example under high-light conditions. Our study is the first to provide spectroscopic evidence for mixed binding sites, as well as the first to show their existence in native complexes.
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