Cell-free extracts employed as chromatin assembly systems contain a myriad of proteins, polyanions and nucleic acids. The roles of ATP, MgCl2 and other cofactors in the catalysis of nucleosome formation by the Xenopus laevis oocyte S-150 have yet to be established unequivocally. In this study we examine the influence of RNA in the assembly process. Under reaction conditions that inhibit nucleosome formation (+ EDTA), pretreatment of the extract with RNase A revives the chromatin assembly machinery while the rate of DNA supercoiling is stimulated significantly. Addition of purified RNA blocks DNA supercoiling. Taken together, these data suggest that the parameters surrounding in vitro chromatin assembly are variable and subject to modulation by endogenous factors.