We have investigated the formation of porphyrin intermediates by isolated barley (Hordeum vulgare) plastids incubated for 40 min with the porphyrin precursor 5-aminolevulinate and in the presence and absence of a diphenylether herbicide that blocks protoporphyrinogen oxidase, the enzyme in chlorophyll and heme synthesis that oxidizes protoporphyrinogen IX to protoporphyrin IX. In the absence of herbicide, about 50% of the protoporphyrin IX formed was found in the extraplastidic medium, which was separated from intact plastids by centrifugation at the end of the incubation period. In contrast, uroporphyrinogen, an earlier intermediate, and magnesium protoporphyrin IX, a later intermediate, were located mainly within the plastid. When the incubation was carried out in the presence of a herbicide that inhibits protoporphyrinogen oxidase, protoporphyrin IX formation by the plastids was completely abolished, but large amounts of protoporphyrinogen accumulated in the extraplastidic medium. To detect extraplastidic protoporphyrinogen, it was necessary to first oxidize it to protoporphyrin IX with the use of a herbicide-resistant protoporphyrinogen oxidase enzyme present in Escherichia coli membranes. Protoporphyrinogen is not detected by some commonly used methods for porphyrin analysis unless it is first oxidized to protoporphyrin IX. Protoporphyrin IX and protoporphyrinogen found outside the plastid did not arise from plastid lysis, because the percentage of plastid lysis, measured with a stromal marker enzyme, was far less than the percentage of these porphyrins in the extraplastidic fraction. These findings suggest that of the tetrapyrrolic intermediates synthesized by the plastids, protoporphyrinogen and protoporphyrin IX, are the most likely to be exported from the plastid to the cytoplasm. These results help explain the extraplastidic accumulation of protoporphyrin IX in plants treated with photobleaching herbicides. In addition, these findings suggest that plastids may export protoporphyrinogen or protoporphyrin IX for mitochondrial heme synthesis.