Abstract The chromatin structure of regulatory regions of the extrachromosomal rRNA genes of Tetrahymena thermophila was probed by nuclease treatment of isolated nuclei. The chromatin near the origins of replication contains hypersensitive sites for micrococcal nuclease, DNAase I, and DNAase II. These sites persist in starved cells, consistent with the origins' being maintained in an altered chromatin structure independent of DNA replication. The region between the two origins of replication is organized into a phased array of seven nucleosomes, the fourth of which is centered at the axis of symmetry of the palindromic rDNA. The entire transcribed region and 150 by upstream from the initiation site are generally accessible to nucleases; any histone proteins associated with these regions are clearly not in a highly organized nucleosomal array as seen in the central region. Comparison of the chromatin structures of the central spacer of T. thermophila and T. pyriformis rDNA reveals that deletion or insertion of DNA has occurred in increments of 200 bp. This is taken to imply that there are constraints on the evolution of spacer DNA sequences at the level of the nucleosome.