Nucleoids were purified from chloroplasts of dividing soybean cells and their polypeptide composition analyzed by SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. Of the 15-20 nucleoid-associated polypeptides, several demonstrated DNA binding activity. Upon disruption of the nucleoids with high concentrations of NaCl, a subset of these proteins and the majority of chloroplast DNA were recovered in the supernatant after centrifugation. Removal of the salt by dialysis resulted in formation of nucleoprotein complexes resembling genuine nucleoids. Purification of these structures revealed three major proteins of 68, 35 and 18 kDa. After purification of the 68 kDa protein to homogeneity, this protein was able to compact purified chloroplast DNA into a nucleoid-like structure in a protein concentration-dependent fashion. Addition of the 68 kDa protein to an in vitro chloroplast DNA replication system resulted in complete inhibition of nucleotide incorporation at concentrations above 300 ng of 68 kDa protein per microg of template DNA. These results led to in situ immunofluorescence studies of chloroplasts replicating DNA which suggested that newly synthesized DNA is not co-localized with nucleoids. Presumably, either the plastid replication machinery has means of removing nucleoid proteins prior to replication or the concentration of nucleoid proteins is tightly regulated and the proteins turned over in order to allow replication to proceed.