A chromatin fraction enriched for Xenopus 5S RNA genes has been isolated by restriction endonuclease digestion and sucrose gradient velocity sedimentation. Soluble chromatin sedimenting at 70-80S contains approximately 50% of the oocyte-expressed 5S RNA genes and only 1.5-3% of total chromatin DNA; this represents a 15- to 30-fold purification of the 5S genes. Such chromatin isolated from somatic cells (blood and cultured kidney cells) retains the transcriptionally-inactive state of the oocyte-expressed 5S genes. Soluble chromatin from somatic cells prepared by micrococcal nuclease digestion also retains the inactive state of the oocyte-type 5S genes. It is likely that the level of chromatin structure responsible for inactivity of the oocyte genes in somatic cells is the nucleosome or short chains of nucleosomes and not supranucleosomal structures. The oocyte-type genes can be rendered transcriptionally active in somatic cell chromatin either by salt extraction of some chromosomal proteins or by treatment with the ion exchange resin Dowex A50W-X2. Alternatively, activation of these genes can be achieved by incubating somatic cell chromatin or nuclei with an extract prepared from Xenopus oocytes. This effect is not specific for 5S RNA genes as the transcription of other small RNAs (including pre-tRNA) is stimulated by the oocyte extract. The activating factor(s) is resistant to micrococcal nuclease, nondialyzable, heat labile and sensitive to trypsin; thus it is highly likely to be a protein or a group of proteins. Partial purification of the activating factor(s) has been achieved by ion exchange chromatography.