Prematurely condensed chromosomes (PCC) of HeLa cells synchronized in different phases of the cell cycle were analyzed by high-resolution scanning electron microscopy. The purpose of this study was to examine changes in the arrangement of the basic 30-nm chromatin fiber within interphase chromosomes associated with progression through the cell cycle. These studies revealed that highly condensed metaphase chromosomes and early G1-PCC consisted of tightly packed looping fibers. Early to mid G1-PCC were more extended and exhibited gyres suggestive of a despiralized chromonema. Further attenuation of PCC during progression through G1 was associated with a gradual transition from packed looping fibers to single extended longitudinal fibers. This process occurs prior to the initiation of DNA synthesis which appears to be localized within single longitudinal fibers. Following replication of a chromosome segment, extended longitudinal fibers were rapidly reorganized into packed looping fiber clusters concomitant with the formation of a multifibered chromosome axis. This results in the characteristic "pulverized" appearance of S-PCC when viewed by light microscopy. Subsequently, adjacent looping fiber domains coalesce, resulting in the uniformly packed, looping fiber arrangement observed in G2-PCC. Spiralization of the chromonema during the G2-mitotic transition results in the formation of highly compact metaphase chromosomes.