Photoconversion of the plant photoreceptor phytochrome A (phyA) from its inactive Pr form to its biologically active Pfr from initiates its rapid proteolysis. Previous kinetic and biochemical studies implicated a role for the ubiquitin/26S proteasome pathway in this breakdown and suggested that multiple domains within the chromoprotein are involved. To further resolve the essential residues, we constructed a series of mutant PHY genes in vitro and analyzed the Pfr-specific degradation of the resulting photoreceptors expressed in transgenic tobacco. One important site is within the C-terminal half of the polypeptide as its removal stabilizes oat phyA as Pfr. Within this half is a set of conserved lysines that are potentially required for ubiquitin attachment. Substitution of these lysines did not prevent ubiquitination or breakdown of Pfr, suggesting either that they are not the attachment sites or that other lysines can be used in their absence. A small domain just proximal to the C-terminus is essential for the form-dependent breakdown of the holoprotein. Removal of just six amino acids in this domain generated a chromoprotein that was not rapidly degraded as Pfr. Using chimeric photoreceptors generated from potato PHYA and PHYB, we found that the N-terminal half of phyA is also required for Pfr-specific breakdown. Only those chimeras containing the N-terminal sequences from phyA were ubiquitinated and rapidly degraded as Pfr. Taken together, our data demonstrate that, whereas an intact C-terminal domain is essential for phyA degradation, the N-terminal domain is responsible for the selective recognition and ubiquitination of Pfr.