The catalytic degradation of 2-carboxyarabinitol 1-phosphate (CA 1-P), a naturally occurring inhibitor of ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (Rubisco), was investigated by chromatographic and spectroscopic analyses of the reaction products. Carboxy-labeled [(14)C]CA 1-P was incubated with a partially purified tobacco (Nicotiana rustica) chloroplast protein that has been shown previously to catalyze metabolism of CA 1-P to a form incapable of inhibiting Rubisco (ME Salvucci, GP Holbrook, JC Anderson, and G Bowes  FEBS Lett 231: 197-201). In the presence and absence of NADPH, ion-exchange chromatography showed a progressive conversion of [2'-(14)C]CA 1-P to a labeled compound which coeluted with authentic carboxyarabinitol. Parallel assays with unlabeled CA 1-P showed a concomitant decrease in the ability of reaction samples to inhibit Rubisco activity. In separate experiments, a 1:1 stoichiometry was found between the release of inorganic phosphate from [2'-(14)C]CA 1-P and accumulation of the (14)C-labeled product. Liberation of inorganic phosphate was not observed when the tobacco enzyme was incubated with ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate, fructose-1,6-bisphosphate, glucose-1-phosphate, glucose-6-phosphate, or 6-phosphogluconate. Proton nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy of the labeled CA 1-P reaction product established its identity as carboxyarabinitol. We therefore propose that light-stimulated degradation of CA 1-P is catalyzed in vivo by a specific phosphatase, 2-carboxyarabinitol 1-phosphatase. Carboxyarabinitol 1-phosphatase activity was detected in the absence of NADPH, but increased threefold when 2 millimolar NADPH was present. Thus, while not required for the reaction, NADPH may play an important role in the regulation of CA 1-P degradation.