UV-B irradiation of intact Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 cells results in the loss of Photosystem II activity, which can be repaired via de novo synthesis of the D1 and D2 reaction center subunits. A key step in the repair process is the differential transcription of the psbA2 and psbA3 genes, coding for identical D1 polypeptides [Máté et al. (1998) J Biol Chem 273: 17439-17444]. In the present work, we investigated for the first time the effect of UV-B irradiation on the transcription of the psbD1 and psbD2 genes encoding identical D2 polypeptides. By using gene-specific S1 nuclease protection assay we showed differential UV-B induced transcription of the two psbD genes: the level of psbD1 mRNA was increased 1.5-2 fold, whereas the accumulation of psbD2 mRNA was 5-7 fold. The induction of psbD2 transcript accumulation by low intensity light was specific for the UV-B range. UV-A emission from the applied UV source, as well as 100 muE m(-2) s(-1) white light had negligible effect. Increase in the psbD2 mRNA level was observed at very low UV-B intensities, which did not cause damage to the function and protein structure of PS II. Expression patterns of chimeric genes containing the promoter regions of the psbD1, psbD2 genes fused to the firefly luciferase (luc) reporter gene showed similar induction as observed for the endogenous psbD genes. Our findings demonstrate that UV-B radiation induces differential expression of the of the psbD1 and psbD2 genes. We propose that the primarily expressed psbD2 serves as a UV stress gene and participates in a rapid defense response against UV-B stress. This effect is regulated, at least partially, at the level of transcription.