The light-dependent, cyclic changes of xanthophyll pigments: violaxanthin, antheraxanthin and zeaxanthin, called the xanthophyll cycle, have been known for about fifty years. This process was characterised for higher plants, several fern and moss species and in some algal groups. Two enzymes, violaxanthin de-epoxidase (VDE) and zeaxanthin epoxidase (ZE), belonging to the lipocalin protein family, are engaged in the xanthophyll cycle. VDE requires for its activity ascorbic acid and reversed hexagonal structure formed by monogalactosyldiacylglycerol. ZE, postulated to be a flavoprotein, has not been purified yet and it is known from its gene sequence only. Zeaxanthin epoxidation is dependent on the reducing power of NADPH and presence of additional proteins. The xanthophyll cycle is postulated to play a role in many important physiological processes. Zeaxanthin, formed from violaxanthin under high light conditions, is thought to be a main photoprotector in autotrophic cells due to its ability to dissipate excess of absorbed light energy that can be measured as a non-photochemical quenching. In addition the zeaxanthin formation is important in protection of the thylakoid membranes against lipid peroxidation. Other postulated functions of the xanthophyll cycle, which include regulation of membrane physical properties, blue light reception and regulation of abscisic acid synthesis, are also discussed.