The mechanisms of targeting and insertion of chloroplast-encoded thylakoid membrane proteins are poorly understood. In this study, we have used a translation system isolated from chloroplasts to begin to investigate these mechanisms. The bacterial membrane protein leader peptidase (Lep) was used as a model protein because its targeting and insertion mechanisms are well understood for Escherichia coli and for the endoplasmic reticulum. Lep could thus provide insight into the functional homologies between the different membrane systems. Lep was efficiently expressed in the chloroplast translation system, and the protein could be inserted into thylakoid membranes with the same topology as in E. coli cytoplasmic membranes, following the positive-inside rule. Insertion of Lep into the thylakoid membrane was stimulated by the trans-thylakoid proton gradient and was strongly inhibited by azide, suggesting a requirement for SecA activity. Insertion most likely occurred in a cotranslational manner, because insertion could only be observed if thylakoid membranes were present during translation reactions but not when thylakoid membranes were added after translation reactions were terminated. To halt the elongation process at different stages, we translated truncated Lep mRNAs without a stop codon, resulting in the formation of stable ribosome nascent chain complexes. These complexes showed a strong, salt-resistant affinity for the thylakoid membrane, implying a functional interaction of the ribosome with the membrane and supporting a cotranslational insertion mechanism for Lep. Out study supports a functional homology for the insertion of Lep into the thylakoid membrane and the E. coli cytoplasmic membrane.