DNA molecules containing two crossover sites between helical domains have been suggested as intermediates in recombination processes involving double-strand breaks. We have modeled these double-crossover structures in an oligonucleotide system. Whereas the relative orientations of the helical domains must be specified in designing these molecules, there are two broad classes of the molecules, the parallel, DP, and antiparallel, DA, molecules. The distance between crossover points must be specified as multiples of half-turns, in order to avoid torsional stress in this system; hence, there are two further subdivisions, those double-crossover molecules separated by odd, O, and even, E, numbers of half-turns. In addition, the parallel molecules with odd numbers of half-turns between crossovers must be divided into those with an excess major or wide-groove separation, W, or those with an excess minor- or narrow-groove separation, N. We have constructed models of all five of these classes, DAE, DAO, DPE, DPOW, and DPON. DPE molecules containing 1 and 2 helical turns between crossovers have been constructed; the DAE molecule contains 1 turn between crossovers, and the DAO, DPOW, and DPON molecules contain 1.5 helical turns between crossovers. None of the parallel molecules is well-behaved; the molecules either dissociate or form multimers when visualized on native polyacrylamide gels. In contrast, antiparallel molecules form single bands when assayed in this fashion. Hydroxyl radical autofootprinting analysis of these molecules reveals protection at expected sites of crossover and of occlusion, suggesting that all the complexes contain linear helix axes that are roughly coplanar between crossovers. However, the DPOW molecule and the DPE molecule with 2 turns between crossovers show decreased protection in the portion between crossovers, suggesting that their helices may bow in response to charge repulsion. We conclude that the helices between parallel double crossovers must be shielded from each other or distorted from linearity if they are to participate in recombination. We have analyzed the possibilities of branch migration and crossover isomerization in double-crossover molecules. Parallel molecules need no sequence symmetry beyond homology to branch migrate, but the sequence symmetry requirements for antiparallel molecules restrict migration to directly repetitive segments that iterate the sequence between crossovers. Crossover isomerization appears to be a very complex process in parallel double-crossover molecules, suggesting that it may be catalyzed by topoisomerases if it occurs within the cell.