Chromatin is thought to be structurally discontinuous because it is packaged into morphologically distinct chromosomes that appear physically isolated from one another in metaphase preparations used for cytogenetic studies. However, analysis of chromosome positioning and movement suggest that different chromosomes often behave as if they were physically connected in interphase as well as mitosis. To address this paradox directly, we used a microsurgical technique to physically remove nucleoplasm or chromosomes from living cells under isotonic conditions. Using this approach, we found that pulling a single nucleolus or chromosome out from interphase or mitotic cells resulted in sequential removal of the remaining nucleoli and chromosomes, interconnected by a continuous elastic thread. Enzymatic treatments of interphase nucleoplasm and chromosome chains held under tension revealed that mechanical continuity within the chromatin was mediated by elements sensitive to DNase or micrococcal nuclease, but not RNases, formamide at high temperature, or proteases. In contrast, mechanical coupling between mitotic chromosomes and the surrounding cytoplasm appeared to be mediated by gelsolin-sensitive microfilaments. Furthermore, when ion concentrations were raised and lowered, both the chromosomes and the interconnecting strands underwent multiple rounds of decondensation and recondensation. As a result of these dynamic structural alterations, the mitotic chains also became sensitive to disruption by restriction enzymes. Ion-induced chromosome decondensation could be blocked by treatment with DNA binding dyes, agents that reduce protein disulfide linkages within nuclear matrix, or an antibody directed against histones. Fully decondensed chromatin strands also could be induced to recondense into chromosomes with pre-existing size, shape, number, and position by adding anti-histone antibodies. Conversely, removal of histones by proteolysis or heparin treatment produced chromosome decondensation which could be reversed by addition of histone H1, but not histones H2b or H3. These data suggest that DNA, its associated protein scaffolds, and surrounding cytoskeletal networks function as a structurally-unified system. Mechanical coupling within the nucleoplasm may coordinate dynamic alterations in chromatin structure, guide chromosome movement, and ensure fidelity of mitosis.