The Adriamycin derivative, cyanomorpholinoadriamycin (CMA) was reacted with DNA in vitro to form apparent interstrand crosslinks. The extent of interstrand crosslink formation was monitored by a gel electrophoresis assay and maximal crosslinking of DNA was observed within 1 hr with 5 microM of drug. The interstrand crosslinks were heat labile, with a midpoint melting temperature of 70 degrees C (10 min exposure to heat) in 45% formamide. When CMA-induced adducts were detected as blockages of lambda-exonuclease, 12 blockage sites were observed with 8 being prior to 5'-GG sequences, one prior to 5'-CC, one prior to 5'-GC and 2 at unresolved combinations of these sequences. These exonuclease-detected blockages reveal the same sites of CMA-induced crosslinking as detected by in vitro transcription footprinting and primer-extension blockages on single strand DNA, where the blockages at 5'-GG and 5'-CC were identified as sites of intrastrand crosslinking and the 5'-GC blockage as a probable site of interstrand crosslinking. The thermal stability of both types of crosslink (10 min exposure to heat) ranged from 63-70 degrees C at individual sites. High levels of adduct were detected with poly (dG-dC) but not with poly (dI-dC). These results suggest adduct formation involving an aminal linkage between the 3 position of the morpholino moiety and N2 of guanine.