Six ribosomal proteins are specific to higher plant chloroplast ribosomes [Subramanian, A.R. (1993) Trends Biochem. Sci.18, 177-180]. Three of them have been fully characterized [Yamaguchi, K., von Knoblauch, K. & Subramanian, A. R. (2000) J. Biol. Chem. 275, 28455-28465; Yamaguchi, K. & Subramanian, A. R. (2000) J. Biol. Chem. 275, 28466-28482]. The remaining three plastid-specific ribosomal proteins (PSRPs), all on the small subunit, have now been characterized (2D PAGE, HPLC, N-terminal/internal peptide sequencing, electrospray ionization MS, cloning/ sequencing of precursor cDNAs). PSRP-3 exists in two forms (alpha/beta, N-terminus free and blocked by post-translational modification), whereas PSRP-2 and PSRP-4 appear, from MS data, to be unmodified. PSRP-2 contains two RNA-binding domains which occur in mRNA processing/stabilizing proteins (e.g. U1A snRNP, poly(A)-binding proteins), suggesting a possible role for it in the recruiting of stored chloroplast mRNAs for active protein synthesis. PSRP-3 is the higher plant orthologue of a hypothetical protein (ycf65 gene product), first reported in the chloroplast genome of a red alga. The ycf65 gene is absent from the chloroplast genomes of higher plants. Therefore, we suggest that Psrp-3/ycf65, encoding an evolutionarily conserved chloroplast ribosomal protein, represents an example of organelle-to-nucleus gene transfer in chloroplast evolution. PSRP-4 shows strong homology with Thx, a small basic ribosomal protein of Thermus thermophilus 30S subunit (with a specific structural role in the subunit crystallographic structure), but its orthologues are absent from Escherichia coli and the photosynthetic bacterium Synechocystis. We would therefore suggest that PSRP-4 is an example of gene capture (via horizontal gene transfer) during chloro-ribosome emergence. Orthologues of all six PSRPs are identifiable in the complete genome sequence of Arabidopsis thaliana and in the higher plant expressed sequence tag database. All six PSRPs are nucleus-encoded. The cytosolic precursors of PSRP-2, PSRP-3, and PSRP-4 have average targeting peptides (62, 58, and 54 residues long), and the mature proteins are of 196, 121, and 47 residues length (molar masses, 21.7, 13.8 and 5.2 kDa), respectively. Functions of the PSRPs as active participants in translational regulation, the key feature of chloroplast protein synthesis, are discussed and a model is proposed.