Some properties of ADP-ribose transferase, and its reaction product, from BHK-21/C13 cells are described. Enzyme activity was found almost exclusively in nuclei (90%), with the remaining 10% located in the cytosolic fraction. The nuclear enzyme is chromatin-bound and requires bivalent cations, preferably Mg2+, a pH of 8.0 and a temperature of 25 degrees C for optimal activity. Chromatin preparations incorporated radioactivity from [14C]NAD+ into acid-insoluble material for about 60 min. Kinetics for substrate NAD+ utilization were not of Michaelis--Menten type; biphasic kinetics were shown from a double-reciprocal plot (1/reaction velocity against 1/[NAD+]) and from a 'Hofstee' plot (reaction velocity/[NAD+] against reaction velocity). The transferase is unstable in the absence of Mg2+ ions. It is inhibited by thymidine, nicotinamide and nicotinamide analogues, but not by ATP, which stimulates it at concentrations of 5 mM and above. The enzyme requires thiol groups for activity; it is readily inhibited by N-ethylmaleimide at 0.5 mM. The product of the reaction is stable under acid conditions at temperatures up to 25 degrees C, but it is hydrolysed by HClO4 at 70 degrees C. It is resistant to NaOH, but is cleaved from its attachment to protein with alkali into trichloroacetic acid-insoluble and -soluble components. On the basis of Cs2SO4- density-gradient analysis under denaturing conditions (gradients included urea and guanidinium hydrochloride), and analysis of the reaction product directly on hydroxyapatite, we conclude that most of the radioactive ADP-ribose residues are firmly bound to protein, presumably in covalent linkage. Hydroxyapatite-chromatographic analysis of ADP-ribose residues released from protein by alkaline digestion showed a spectrum of molecular sizes including mono-, oligo- and poly-(ADP-ribose), when chromatin was incubated initially with [14C]NAD+ for 10 min and then for a further 30 min after addition of excess non-radioactive NAD+, only about 10% of the radioactive mono-(ADP-ribose) could be 'chased' into longer-chain molecules. Hydroxyapatite analysis was also used to show that, whereas all ADP-ribose residues were released from protein with NaOH, only 50% of them were susceptible to hydroxylamine. These hydroxylamine-sensitive residues included all size classes, although mono-(ADP-ribose) predominated. Finally, there was an approximately equal distribution of ADP-ribose incorporated into HCl-soluble proteins (including the histones) and HCl-insoluble proteins (including the non-histone proteins) when chromatin was incubated with NAD+ up to 0.5 mM, but at higher NAD+ concentrations more ADP-ribose was incorporated into the HCl-soluble fraction (82% at 4.0 mM-NAD+).