PsaD is a peripheral stromal-facing subunit of photosystem I (PSI), a multisubunit complex of the thylakoid membranes. PsaD plays a major role in both the function and assembly of PSI. Past studies with radiolabeled PsaD indicated that PsaD is able to assemble in vitro specifically into the PSI complex. To unravel the mechanism by which this assembly takes place, the following steps were taken. (i) Mature PsaD of spinach and PsaD of the prokaryotic caynobacterium Mastigocladus laminosus, both bearing a six-histidine tag at their C-termini, were overexpressed in Escherichia coli and purified to homogeneity. (ii) The purified recombinant protein was introduced into the isolated PSI complex. (iii) Following incubation, the PsaD that assembled into PSI was separated from the nonassembled PsaD by a sucrose gradient. Differential Western blot analysis was used to determine whether the native and the recombinant PsaD were present as free or assembled proteins of the PSI complex. Antibodies that can recognize only the recombinant PsaD (anti-his) or both the native and recombinant PsaD (anti-PsaD) were used. The findings indicated that an exchange mechanism enables the assembly of a newly introduced PsaD into PSI. The latter replaces the PsaD subunit that is present in situ within the complex. In vivo studies that followed the assembly of PsaD in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii cells supported this in vitro-characterized exchange mechanism. In C. reinhardtii, in the absence of synthesis and assembly of new PSI complexes, newly synthesized PsaD assembled into pre-existing PSI complexes.