Unfixed metaphase chromosome preparations from human lymphocyte cultures were immunofluorescently labelled using antibodies to defined histone epitopes. Both mouse monoclonal antibody HBC-7, raised against the N-terminal region of H2B, and rabbit serum R5/12, which recognizes H4 acetylated at Lys-12, gave non-uniform labelling patterns, whereas control antibodies against total histone fractions H4 and H1 produced homogeneous fluorescence. HBC-7 bound approximately uniformly to the bulk of the chromosomes, but the major heterochromatic domains of chromosomes 1, 9, 15, 16 and the Y showed significantly brighter fluorescence. Serum R5/12 indicated an overall reduction in acetylation of H4 in metaphase chromosomes compared with interphase nuclei, although some specific chromosomal locations had considerably elevated acetylation levels. Acetylation levels in the major heterochromatic domains appeared extremely low. To investigate further the differences noted in heterochromatin labelling, metaphases from cultures grown in the presence of various agents known to induce undercondensation of the major heterochromatic domains were similarly immunolabelled. Decondensed heterochromatin no longer exhibited higher than normal immunofluorescence levels with HBC-7. The higher resolution afforded by "stretching" the centromeric heterochromatin of chromosomes 1, 9 and 16 confirmed the low level of H4 acetylation in these domains. We consider the implications of these observations in relation to chromatin conformation and activity.