DAPI (4',6-diamidino-2-phenylindole) is a DNA-specific probe which forms a fluorescent complex by attaching in the minor grove of A-T rich sequences of DNA. It also forms nonfluorescent intercalative complexes with double-stranded nucleic acids. The physicochemical properties of the dye and its complexes with nucleic acids and history of the development of this dye as a biological stain are described. The application of DAPI as a DNA-specific probe for flow cytometry, chromosome staining, DNA visualization and quantitation in histochemistry and biochemistry is reviewed. The mechanisms of DAPI-nucleic acid complex formation including minor groove binding, intercalation and condensation are discussed.