Actively transcribed chromatin is structurally different from bulk inactive chromatin. It has been difficult to define the molecular basis of the difference, however, because purified fractions of active chromatin were not available. We have overcome this problem by releasing oligonucleosomes from the nonmethylated CpG-rich islands (CpG islands) of HeLa cell nuclei using restriction endonucleases. Since CpG islands very often include the promoters and 5' transcribed regions of genes, they represent a model for the "active" chromatin structure. CpG island chromatin differs in three respects from bulk chromatin prepared in the same way: histone H1 is present in very low amounts; histones H3 and H4 are highly acetylated; and nucleosome-free regions are present. Except for the latter regions, the average nucleosomal spacing is similar to that of bulk chromatin.