RNA polymerase II (Pol II) must transcribe genes in a chromatin environment in vivo. We examined transcription by Pol II through nucleosome cores in vitro. At physiological and lower ionic strengths, a mononucleosome imposes a strong block to elongation, which is relieved at increased ionic strength. Passage of Pol II causes a quantitative loss of one H2A/H2B dimer but does not alter the location of the nucleosome. In contrast, bacteriophage SP6 RNA polymerase (RNAP) efficiently transcribes through the same nucleosome under physiological conditions, and the histone octamer is transferred behind SP6 RNAP. Thus, the mechanisms for transcription through the nucleosome by Pol II and SP6 RNAP are clearly different. Moreover, Pol II leaves behind an imprint of disrupted chromatin structure.