Isolated subcomplexes of photosystem II from spinach (CP47RC), composed of D1, D2, cytochrome b(559), CP47, and a number of hydrophobic small subunits but devoid of CP43 and the extrinsic proteins of the oxygen-evolving complex, were shown to reconstitute the Mn(4)Ca(1)Cl(x) cluster of the water-splitting system and to evolve oxygen. The photoactivation process in CP47RC dimers proceeds by the same two-step mechanism as observed in PSII membranes and exhibits the same stoichiometry for Mn(2+), but with a 10-fold lower affinity for Ca(2+) and an increased susceptibility to photodamage. After the lower Ca(2+) affinity and the 10-fold smaller absorption cross-section for photons in CP47 dimers is taken into account, the intrinsic rate constant for the rate-limiting calcium-dependent dark step is indistinguishable for the two systems. The monomeric form of CP47RC also showed capacity to photoactivate and catalyze water oxidation, but with lower activity than the dimeric form and increased susceptibility to photodamage. After optimization of the various parameters affecting the photoactivation process in dimeric CP47RC subcores, 18% of the complexes were functionally reconstituted and the quantum efficiency for oxygen production by reactivated centers approached 96% of that observed for reconstituted photosystem II-enriched membranes.