Reversible phosphorylation and turnover of the D1 protein in vivo were studied under low-temperature photoinhibition of pumpkin leaves and under subsequent recovery at low light at 4 °C or 23 °C. The inactivation of PS II and photodamage to D1 were not enhanced during low-temperature photoinhibition when compared to that at room temperature. The PS II repair cycle, however, was completely blocked at 4 °C at the level of D1 degradation. Both the recovery of the photochemical activity of PS II and the degradation of the damaged D1 protein at low light at 23 °C were delayed about 1 hour after low-temperature photoinhibition, suggesting that in addition to the decrease in catalytic turnover of the enzyme, the protease was specifically inactivated in vivo at low temperature. The effect of low temperature on the other regulatory enzymes of PS II repair, protein kinase and phosphatase [Rintamäki et al. (1996) J Biol Chem 271: 14870-14875] was variable. The D1 protein kinase was operational at low temperature while dephosphorylation of the D1 protein seemed to be completely inhibited during low temperature treatment. Under subsequent recovery conditions at low light and 23 °C, the high phosphorylation level of D1 was sustained in leaf discs photoinhibited at low temperature, despite the recovery of the phosphatase activity. This high phosphorylation level of D1 was due to the persistently active kinase. The D1 kinase, previously shown to get activated by reduction of plastoquinone, was, however, found to be maximally active already at relatively low redox state of the plastoquinone pool. We suggest that phosphorylation of PS II centers increases the stability of PS II complexes and concomitantly improves their survival under stress conditions.