Chlamydiae are obligate intracellular bacteria which occupy a non-acidified vacuole (the inclusion) throughout their developmental cycle. Little is known about events leading to the establishment and maintenance of the chlamydial inclusion membrane. To identify chlamydial proteins which are unique to the intracellular phase of the life cycle, an expression library of Chlamydia psittaci DNA was screened with convalescent antisera from infected animals and hyperimmune antisera generated against formalin-killed purified chlamydiae. Overlapping genomic clones were identified which expressed a 39 kDa protein only recognized by the convalescent sera. Sequence analysis of the clones identified two open reading frames (ORFs), one of which (ORF1) coded for a predicted 39 kDa gene product. The ORF1 sequence was amplified and fused to the malE gene of Escherichia coli and antisera were raised against the resulting fusion protein. Immunoblotting with these antisera demonstrated that the 39 kDa protein was present in lysates of infected cells and in reticulate bodies (RBs), but was at the limit of detection in lysates of purified C. psittaci elementary bodies. Fluorescence microscopy experiments demonstrated that this protein was localized in the inclusion membrane of infected HeLa cells, but was not detected on the developmental forms within the inclusion. Because the protein produced by ORF1 is deposited on the inclusion membrane of infected cells, this gene has been designated incA, (inclusion membrane protein A) and its gene product, IncA. In addition to the inclusion membrane, these antisera labelled structures that extended from the inclusion over the nucleus or into the cytoplasm of infected cells. Immunoblotting also demonstrated that IncA, in lysates of infected cells, had a migration pattern that seemed indicative of post-translational modification. This pattern was not observed in immunoblots of RBs or in the E. coli expressing IncA. Collectively, these data identify a chlamydial gene which codes for a protein that is released from RB and is localized in the inclusion membrane of infected cells.