The major light-harvesting chlorophyll a/b binding protein (LHCP) of higher plant chloroplasts is nuclear-encoded, synthesized as a precursor, and processed upon import. We have previously (GK Lamppa, M Abad  J Cell Biol 105: 2641-2648) identified a soluble enzyme that cleaves the LHCP precursor (pLHCP). In this study, we describe the conditions for optimal recovery of the processing activity and provide evidence that the N terminus of pLHCP is indeed cleaved, removing the transit peptide. Two pLHCP deletions were made from a cloned pLHCP gene removing 13 and 21 amino acids, respectively, from the carboxy terminus of the protein. After organelle-free processing, the cleavage products showed a shift in mobility during SDS-PAGE proportional to the size of the precursor truncations, as predicted for N-terminal processing. Unexpectedly, a third truncated precursor lacking 91 residues of the C-terminus was not cleaved although the transit peptide domain was intact, suggesting that this deletion disrupted conformational features of the precursor necessary for processing. The pLHCP processing enzyme is inhibited by 2 millimolar EDTA and the metal chelator 1, 10 phenanthroline at 0.4 millimolar, while being inhibited by EGTA only at high concentrations and insensitive to iodoacetate. Optimal processing occurs at pH 8 to 9, and 26 degrees C. Gel filtration chromatography shows that the pLHCP processing enzyme has an apparent molecular weight of about 240,000. The identical column fractions that process pLHCP also convert the precursor of the small subunit of ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase to its mature form.