Poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase is a nuclear enzyme that is highly conserved in eucaryotes. Its activity is totally dependent on the presence of DNA containing single or double stranded breaks. We have shown that this activation results in a decondensation of chromatin superstructure in vitro, which is caused mainly by hyper(ADP-ribosy)ation of histone H1. In core particles, the modification of histone H2B leads to a partial dissociation of DNA from core histones. The conformational change of native chromatin by poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation is reversible upon degradation of the histone H1-bound poly(ADP-ribose) by poly(ADP-ribose) glycohydrolase. We propose that cuts produced in vivo on DNA during DNA repair activate poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase, which then synthesizes poly(ADP-ribose) on histone H1, in particular, and contributes to the opening of the 25-nm chromatin fiber, resulting in the increased accessibility of DNA to excision repair enzymes. This mechanism is fast and reversible.