Cells of Rhodopseudomonas sphaeroides grown in a 25% O2 atmosphere were rapidly subjected to total anaerobiosis in the presence of light to study the progression of events associated with the de novo synthesis of the inducible intracytoplasmic membrane (ICM). This abrupt change in physiological conditions resulted in the immediate cessation of cell growth and whole cell protein, DNA, and phospholipid accumulation. Detectable cell growth and whole cell protein accumulation resumed ca. 12 h later. Bulk phospholipid accumulation paralleled cell growth, but the synthesis of individual phospholipid species during the adaptation period suggested the existence of a specific regulatory site in phospholipid synthesis at the level of the phosphatidylethanolamine methyltransferase system. Freeze-fracture electron microscopy showed that aerobic cells contain small indentations within the cell membrane that appear to be converted into discrete ICM invaginations within 1 h after the imposition of anaerobiosis. Microscopic examination also revealed a series of morphological changes in ICM structure and organization during the lag period before the initiation of photosynthetic growth. Bacteriochlorophyll synthesis and the formation of the two light-harvesting bacteriochlorophyll-protein complexes of R. sphaeroides (B800-850 and B875) occurred coordinately within 2 h after the shift to anaerobic conditions. Using antibodies prepared against various ICM-specific polypeptides, the synthesis of reaction center proteins and the polypeptides associated with the B800-850 complex was monitored. The reaction center H polypeptide was immunochemically detected at low levels in the cell membrane of aerobic cells, which contained no detectable ICM or bacteriochlorophyll. The results are discussed in terms of the oxygen-dependent regulation of gene expression in R. sphaeroides and the possible role of the reaction center H polypeptide and the cell membrane indentations in the site-specific assembly of ICM pigment-protein complexes during the de novo synthesis of the ICM.