The formation of active membrane-bound nitrate reductase A in Escherichia coli requires the presence of three subunits, NarG, NarH and NarI, as well as a fourth protein, NarJ, that is not part of the active nitrate reductase. In narJ strains, both NarG and NarH subunits are associated in an unstable and inactive NarGH complex. A significant activation of this complex was observed in vitro after adding purified NarJ-6His polypeptide to the cell supernatant of a narJ strain. Once the apo-enzyme NarGHI of a narJ mutant has become anchored to the membrane via the NarI subunit, it cannot be reactivated by NarJ in vitro. NarJ protein specifically recognizes the catalytic NarG subunit. Fluorescence, electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy and molybdenum quantification based on inductively coupled plasma emission spectroscopy (ICPES) clearly indicate that, in the absence of NarJ, no molybdenum cofactor is present in the NarGH complex. We propose that NarJ is a specific chaperone that binds to NarG and may thus keep it in an appropriate competent-open conformation for the molybdenum cofactor insertion to occur, resulting in a catalytically active enzyme. Upon insertion of the molybdenum cofactor into the apo-nitrate reductase, NarJ is then dissociated from the activated enzyme.