The equilibrium binding of the antitumor agent m-AMSA (4'-(9-acridinylamino) methane-sulfon-m-ansidide) has been examined by optical methods. These studies which have focused on the low bound drug concentrations (r values < 0.02, base pairs) reveal m-AMSA to bind calf thymus DNA in a highly cooperative manner as indicated by the initial positive slope of the Scatchard plot. In contrast, the studies on the parent 9-aminoacridine under identical conditions demonstrate that this compound binds DNA in a noncooperative (neighbor exclusion) manner. The positive cooperative binding phenomenon of m-AMSA is probed as a function of ionic concentration and shown to exist over the range of salt concentrations examined (0.01 to 0.1 M); however, the magnitude of the cooperative binding is altered. This observation of cooperativity is consistent with earlier studies on biologically active compounds and may be related to such binding parameters as binding sequence selectivity and/or structural perturbations to the DNA structure. © 1988 IRL Press Limited, Oxford, England.