A low molecular weight heat shock protein which localizes to chloroplasts has been identified in several plant species. This protein belongs to a eukaryotic superfamily of small HSPs, all of which contain a conserved carboxyl-terminal domain. To investigate further the structure of this HSP, we isolated and sequenced cDNA clones for the chloroplast LMW HSPs from Petunia hybrida and Arabidopsis thaliana. The cloning of chloroplast HSPs from these two species enabled us to compare the amino acid sequences of this protein from plant species (petunia, Arabidopsis, pea, soybean and maize) that represent evolutionarily divergent taxonomic subclasses. Three conserved regions were identified, which are designated as regions I, II and III. Regions I and II are also shared by cytoplasmic LMW HSPs and therefore are likely to have functional roles common to all eukaryotic LMW HSPs. In contrast, consensus region III is not found in other LMW HSPs. Secondary structure analysis predicts that this region forms an amphipathic alpha-helix with high conservation of methionine residues on the hydrophobic face and 100% conservation of residues on the hydrophilic face. This structure is similar to three helices, termed "methionine bristles", which are found in a methionine-rich domain of a 54 kDa protein component of signal recognition particle (SRP54). The conservation of regions I and II among LMW cytoplasmic and chloroplast HSPs suggests that these HSPs perform related functions in different cellular compartments. However, identification of the methionine bristle domain suggests that chloroplast HSPs also have unique functions or substrates within the special environment of the chloroplast or other plastids.