The chloroplast ATP-dependent metalloprotease FtsH is involved in the degradation of unassembled proteins, the repair of photosystem II (PSII) from photoinhibition, and, apparently, the formation of thylakoids. In Arabidopsis, it is encoded by a family of 12 genes. However, the products of only four of them, FtsH1, 2, 5 and 8, have been found in chloroplasts to date. Mutations in two of these, FtsH2 and 5, demonstrate a visible phenotype of variegated leaves, with the phenotype of the FtsH2 mutant being more pronounced. Moreover, the degree of variegation appears to be dependent on developmental stage and environmental factors, suggesting an intricate relationship between the different gene products. To explore this, developmental and light effects on the accumulation of FtsH protease were studied in wild-type (WT) and FtsH2-mutant plants. Whereas cotyledons of the mutant were indistinguishable from those of the WT, the first true leaves were almost completely white. Subsequent leaves contained increasing proportions of green sectors. Analysis of the mRNA of the four FtsH genes, in cotyledons, first and second leaves of WT and mutant plants, revealed that: (i) transcript level increases during development, and (ii) transcript level in the mutant is higher than in the WT. FtsH protein level in the mutant was ca. 50% of that found in the WT, whereas the levels of other thylakoid proteins were the same. In individual leaves, the level of FtsH protein increased during development as well. Exposure of seedlings to different light intensities did not affect the degree of variegation, suggesting that it is due to a defect in chloroplast development rather than photobleaching. Examination of FtsH protein during exposure to high light revealed a decrease in its level, concomitant with a decrease in PSII potential, suggesting that the kinetics of photoinhibition reflects not only photodamage to PSII and induction of protective mechanisms, but also a decrease in repair capacity due to a reduction in the level of FtsH protease.