The role of carotenoids in quenching of chlorophyll fluorescence in the major light-harvesting complex of photosystem II has been studied with a view to understanding the molecular basis of the control of photoprotective nonradiative energy dissipation by the xanthophyll cycle in vivo. The control of chlorophyll fluorescence quenching in the isolated complex has been investigated in terms of the number of the conjugated double bonds for a series of carotenoids ranging from n = 5-19, giving an estimated first excited singlet state energy from 20,700 cm-1 to 10,120 cm-1. At pH 7.8 the addition of exogenous carotenoids with >=10 conjugated double bonds (including zeaxanthin) stimulated fluorescence quenching relative to the control with no added carotenoid, whereas those with n </= 9 conjugated double bonds (e.g., violaxanthin) had no effect on fluorescence. When quenching in the light-harvesting complex of photosystem II was induced by a lowering of pH to 5.5, carotenoids with n </= 9 conjugated double bonds (including violaxanthin) caused a noticeable inhibition of fluorescence quenching relative to the control. Of the 10 carotenoids tested, quenching induced by the addition of the tertiary amine compound, dibucaine, to isolated light-harvesting complex of photosystem II could only be reversed by violaxanthin. These results are discussed in terms of the two theories developed to explain the role of zeaxanthin and violaxanthin in nonphotochemical quenching of chlorophyll fluorescence.