Anthracycline antibiotics are an important group of antitumor drugs widely used in cancer chemotherapy. However, despite the increasing interest in these chemotherapeutic agents, their mechanism of action is not yet completely understood. Here, we review what is currently known about the molecular mechanisms involved with special emphasis on the interaction of these drugs with chromatin and its constitutive components: DNA and histones. The evidence suggests that one very important component of the activity of these drugs is the result of these manifold interactions that lead to a chromatin unfolding and aggregation. This chromatin structural disruption is likely to interfere with the metabolic processes of DNA (replication and transcription) and it may play an important role in the apoptosis undergone by the cells upon treatment with these drugs. BioEssays 27:50–56, 2005. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.