In an attempt to identify and characterize chloroplast proteases, we performed an immunological analysis of chloroplasts using an antibody against Escherichia coli FtsH protease, which is an ATP-dependent metalloprotease bound to the cytoplasmic membrane. A cross-reacting protein of 78 kDa was found in the thylakoid membrane of spinach, but not in the soluble stromal fraction. Alkali and high salt washes, as well as trypsin treatment of thylakoid membranes, suggest that the chloroplastic FtsH protein is integral to the membrane, with its hydrophilic portion exposed to the stroma. The protein is not bound to any photosynthetic complex and is exclusively located in the stromally exposed regions of the thylakoid membrane. Its expression is dependent on light, as it is present in green pea seedlings, but absent from etiolated ones. An Arabidopsis cDNA was isolated, and the deduced amino acid sequence demonstrated high similarity to the E. coli FtsH protein, especially in the central region of the protein, containing the ATP- and zinc-binding sites. The product of this clone was capable of import into isolated pea chloroplasts, where it was processed to its mature form and targeted to the thylakoid membrane. The trans-bilayer orientation and lateral location of the FtsH protein in the thylakoid membrane suggest its involvement in the degradation of both soluble stromal proteins and newly inserted or turning- over thylakoid proteins.