The chromatin structure of polyamine-depleted U-87 MG human brain tumour cells was studied by following the kinetics of digestion of cell nuclei by micrococcal nuclease and bovine pancreatic DNAase I. Cells growing in monolayers were treated with either alpha-difluoromethylornithine (DFMO), to deplete putrescine and spermidine, or N1,N14-bis(ethyl)homospermine (BE-4-4-4), to deplete putrescine, spermidine and spermine. BE-4-4-4 increased the initial rates of digestion and the magnitudes of limit digest by both enzymes; DFMO increased the limit digests without affecting initial digestion rates. Addition of 1 mM-putrescine 1 day after addition of DFMO reversed the effect of DFMO on limit digests. (Because polyamine uptake is low in cells treated with BE-4-4-4, and because putrescine does not reverse the growth-inhibitory effects of BE-4-4-4, reversal of the effects of BE-4-4-4 with putrescine was not attempted.) The increases in initial rates and limit digests did not result from changes in the lengths of nucleosomal or linker DNA, from blocks in cell-cycle progression, or from growth inhibition caused by DFMO or BE-4-4-4. Thus, because the limit digest is highest in cells with the lowest polyamine levels, it seems clear that the enhanced enzymic digestion of nuclei is caused by polyamine depletion and its possible effect on chromatin structure.