The protein coding regions of plastid mRNAs in higher plants are generally flanked by 3' inverted repeat sequences. In spinach chloroplast mRNAs, these inverted repeat sequences can fold into stem-loop structures and serve as signals for the correct processing of the mature mRNA 3' ends. The inverted repeat sequences are also required to stabilize 5' upstream mRNA segments, and interact with chloroplast protein in vitro. To dissect the molecular components involved in chloroplast mRNA 3' end processing and stability, a spinach chloroplast protein extract containing mRNA 3' end processing activity was fractionated by FPLC and RNA affinity chromatography. The purified fraction consisted of several proteins and was capable of processing the 3' ends of the psbA, rbcL, petD and rps14 mRNAs. This protein fraction was enriched for a 28 kd RNA-binding protein (28RNP) which interacts with both the precursor and mature 3' ends of the four mRNAs. Using specific antibodies to this protein, the poly(A) RNA-derived cDNA for the 28RNP was cloned and sequenced. The predicted amino acid sequence for the 28RNP reveals two conserved RNA-binding domains, including the consensus sequences RNP-CS1 and CS2, and a novel acidic and glycine-rich N-terminal domain. The accumulation of the nuclear-encoded 28RNP mRNA and protein are developmentally regulated in spinach cotyledons, leaves, root and stem, and are enhanced during light-dependent chloroplast development. The general correlation between accumulation of the 28RNP and plastid mRNA during development, together with the result that depletion of the 28RNP from the chloroplast protein extract interferes with the correct 3' end processing of several chloroplast mRNAs, suggests that the 28RNP is required for plastid mRNA 3' end processing and/or stability.