Photoactive yellow protein (PYP) is a blue light sensor present in the purple photosynthetic bacterium Ectothiorhodospira halophila, which undergoes a cyclic series of absorbance changes upon illumination at its lambda(max) of 446 nm. The anionic p-hydroxycinnamoyl chromophore of PYP is covalently bound as a thiol ester to Cys69, buried in a hydrophobic pocket, and hydrogen-bonded via its phenolate oxygen to Glu46 and Tyr42. The chromophore becomes protonated in the photobleached state (I(2)) after it undergoes trans-cis isomerization, which results in breaking of the H-bond between Glu46 and the chromophore and partial exposure of the phenolic ring to the solvent. In previous mutagenesis studies of a Glu46Gln mutant, we have shown that a key factor in controlling the color and photocycle kinetics of PYP is this H-bonding system. To further investigate this, we have now characterized Glu46Asp and Glu46Ala mutants. The ground-state absorption spectrum of the Glu46Asp mutant shows a pH-dependent equilibrium (pK = 8.6) between two species: a protonated (acidic) form (lambda(max) = 345 nm), and a slightly blue-shifted deprotonated (basic) form (lambda(max) = 444 nm). Both of these species are photoactive. A similar transition was also observed for the Glu46Ala mutant (pK = 7.9), resulting in two photoactive red-shifted forms: a basic species (lambda(max) = 465 nm) and a protonated species (lambda(max) = 365 nm). We attribute these spectral transitions to protonation/deprotonation of the phenolate oxygen of the chromophore. This is demonstrated by FT Raman spectra. Dark recovery kinetics (return to the unphotolyzed state) were found to vary appreciably between these various photoactive species. These spectral and kinetic properties indicate that the hydrogen bond between Glu46 and the chromophore hydroxyl group is a dominant factor in controlling the pK values of the chromophore and the glutamate carboxyl.