The activity of the photosynthetic carbon-fixing enzyme, ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (Rubisco), is partially inhibited by arsenite in the millimolar concentration range. However, micromolar arsenite can fully inhibit Rubisco in the presence of a potentiating monothiol such as cysteine, cysteamine, 2-mercaptoethanol or N-acetylcysteine, but not glutathione. Arsenite reacts specifically with the vicinal Cys172-Cys192 from the large subunit of Rubisco and with the monothiol to establish a ternary complex which is suggested to be a trithioarsenical. The stability of the complex is strongly dependent on the nature of the monothiol. Enzyme activity is fully recovered through the disassembly of the complex after eliminating arsenite and/or the thiol from the medium. The synergic combination of arsenite and a monothiol acts also in vivo stopping carbon dioxide fixation in illuminated cultures of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Again, this effect may be reverted by washing the cells. However, in vivo inhibition does not result from the blocking of Rubisco since mutant strains carrying Rubiscos with Cys172 and/or Cys192 substitutions (which are insensitive to arsenite in vitro) are also arrested. This suggests the existence of a specific sensor controlling carbon fixation that is even more sensitive than Rubisco to the arsenite-thiol synergism.