Macronuclei of the ciliated protozoan Tetrahymena thermophila possess a histone acetyltransferase activity closely associated with transcription-related histone acetylation. Nothing definitive is known concerning the polypeptide composition of this activity in Tetrahymena or any comparable activity from any cellular source. An acetyltransferase activity gel assay was developed which identifies a catalytically active subunit of this enzyme in Tetrahymena. This activity gel assay detects a single polypeptide of 55 kDa (p55) in crude macronuclear extracts, as well as in column-purified fractions, which incorporates [3H]acetate from [3H]acetyl-CoA into core histone substrates polymerized directly into SDS polyacrylamide gels. p55 copurifies precisely with acetyltransferase activity through all chromatographic steps examined, including reverse-phase HPLC. Gel-filtration chromatography of this activity indicates a molecular mass of 220 kDa, suggesting that the native enzyme may consist of four identical subunits of 55 kDa. Furthermore, p55 is tightly associated with di- and greater polynucleosomes and therefore may be defined as a component of histone acetyltransferase type A--i.e., chromatin associated.