The photoactivation mechanism of the sensory rho-dopsin II (SRII)-HtrII receptor-transducer complex of Natronomonas pharaonis was investigated by time-resolved Fourier transform infrared difference spectroscopy to identify structural changes associated with early events in the signal relay mechanism from the receptor to the transducer. Several prominent bands in the wild-type SRII-HtrII spectra are affected by amino acid substitutions at the receptor Tyr(199) and transducer Asn(74) residues, which form a hydrogen bond between the two proteins near the middle of the bilayer. Our results indicate disappearance of this hydrogen bond in the M and O photointermediates, the likely signaling states of the complex. This event represents one of the largest light-induced alterations in the binding contacts between the receptor and transducer. The vibrational frequency changes suggest that Asn(74) and Tyr(199) form other stronger hydrogen bonds in the M state. The light-induced disruption of the Tyr(199)-Asn(74) bond also occurs when the Schiff base counterion Asp(75) is replaced with a neutral asparagine. We compared the decrease in intensity of difference bands assigned to the Tyr(199)-Asn(74) pair and to chromophore and protein groups of the receptor at various time points during the recovery of the initial state. All difference bands exhibit similar decay kinetics indicating that reformation of the Tyr(199)-Asn(74) hydrogen bond occurs concomitantly with the decay of the M and O photointermediates. This work demonstrates that the signal relay from SRII to HtrII involves early structural alterations in the deeply membrane-embedded domain of the complex and provides a spectroscopic signal useful for correlation with the downstream events in signal transduction.