Chicken embryo fibroblasts in uridine-containing medium are inherently resistant to the growth-inhibitory effect of ethidium bromide. The drug was found to inhibit the incorporation of [3H]thymidine into mitochondrial DNA circular molecules. Mitochondrial DNA was quantitated by DNA-DNA reassociation kinetics with a probe of chicken liver mitochondrial DNA. A mean number of 604 copies of mitochondrial DNA per cell was found. This number decreased progressively in cells exposed to ethidium bromide, and by day 13 ca. one copy of mitochondrial DNA was detected per cell. When the cells were then transferred to drug-free medium, the number of copies increased very slowly as a function of time. On the other hand, analyses of DNA extracted from cell populations exposed to ethidium bromide for 20 or more days, with or without subsequent transfer to drug-free medium, revealed very little or no mitochondrial DNA by reassociation kinetics or by Southern blot hybridization of AvaI- or HindIII-digested total cellular DNA. As a result of the elimination of mitochondrial DNA molecules, the establishment of cell populations with a respiration-deficient phenotype was confirmed by measuring cytochrome c oxidase activity as a function of the number of cell generations and the absorption spectrum of mitochondrial cytochromes.