Chromatin has been prepared from Chinese hamster V79 cell nuclei by successive suspension and sedimentation in buffers of decreasing ionic strength. For buffer concentrations from 50 to 1 mM, the resultant chromatin maintained a normal histone content, nucleosomal organization, and attachment to the nuclear matrix; however, as the buffer concentration was reduced from 50 to 10 and 1 mM, the higher-order chromatin structures became increasingly relaxed. Fully expanded chromatin is 5- to 10-fold more susceptible to the induction of DNA-protein crosslinks (DPCs) by gamma radiation than is chromatin residing in living interphase cells. As much as 60-70% of expanded chromatin can be induced to form DPCs as compared to a maximum of about 20% of cellular DNA. For expanded chromatin, the maximum level of induced DPCs is two to three times higher than would be expected if only matrix-associated DNA were induced to form DPCs. Therefore, DNA in distal regions of chromatin loops must also be induced to form DPCs with histones or other nonhistone chromosomal proteins. The hypersensitivity of isolated chromatin to radiation-induced production of DPCs appears to be related to the expansion of chromatin conformation rather than to the removal of intracellular radical scavengers for the following reasons: (a) there is an inverse relationship between the buffer concentration in which the chromatin is suspended and DPC formation, and (b) the induction of a more compact 30-nm chromatin fiber from the expanded 10-nm chromatin fiber in the presence of a low concentration of MgCl2 results in a marked reduction in DPC formation. The formation of radiation-induced DPC seems to occur at maximum efficiency in fully expanded chromatin, since DPC formation cannot be further stimulated by the addition of Cu2+, which can catalyze the production of OH by Fenton chemistry. It is concluded that radiation-induced DNA damage production is greatly influenced by chromatin conformation, and that chromatin as it exists in the cell is a relatively poor substrate for DNA-protein crosslinking in comparison to completely expanded chromatin.