Barminomycin is a member of the anthracycline class of anticancer agents and was originally discovered as a pink/red complex with DNA and RNA and named SN-07. The chromophore was subsequently separated from the nucleic acids by nuclease digestion and contained the four-membered anthraquinone ring system characteristic of anthracyclines, but with an unusual eight membered ring that contained a carbinolamine which readily interconverted to an imine. The imine form is analogous to the formaldehyde-activated form of other anthracyclines such as doxorubicin. The imine form confers exceptional activity to barminomycin which is 1,000-fold more cytotoxic than doxorubicin. Barminomycin rapidly forms adducts with DNA, reacting with the exocyclic amino group of guanine residues and with high selectivity for 5'-GC-3' sequences. The coupling to DNA appears to be identical to the N-C-N aminal linkage formed between doxorubicin and DNA where the carbon derives from formaldehyde for doxorubicin-DNA adducts, whereas this "activated carbon" is an inherent component of the imine group in the eight membered ring of barminomycin. Although the linkage of both drugs to DNA appears to be identical, barminomycin-DNA complexes are essentially irreversible compared to the labile doxorubicin-DNA adducts which have an in vitro (purified DNA) half-life of 25 h at 37 degrees C. A 3D model of the barminomycin-DNA complex has been defined from 307 NOE distance constraints. The enhanced stability of barminomycin-DNA adducts appears to be due primarily to protection of the aminal linkage from hydrolysis and this has provided insight into the design of new anthracycline derivatives with enhanced stability and activity. Strategies for harnessing the extreme reactivity and activity of barminomycin are also presented.