Previously it had been shown that poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase requires DNA for its activity and that this enzyme is auto-poly(ADP-ribosyl)ated. The studies reported here indicate that this self-modification inhibits the enzyme and decreases its affinity for DNA, as shown by sucrose gradient density centrifugation. The coupling of poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase with poly(ADP-ribose) glycohydrolase reactivates the polymerase by degrading poly(ADP-ribose) and restoring the polymerase-DNA complex. The assay of polymerase in the presence of glyco-hydrolase was made possible by use of a double-label assay involving release of 14C-labelled nicotinamide and the incorporation of 3H-labelled ADP-ribose from NAD+. These results provide the basis for a shuttle mechanism in which the polymerase can be moved on and off DNA by the action of these two enzymes. Mg2+ and histone H1 appear to activate the polymerase by increasing the affinity of the polymerase for DNA.