The binding of toluidine blue molecules to nucleic acid phosphates under conditions of competition with Mg2+ ions was studied in Trichosia pubescens polytene chromosome regions differing in composition and organization (RNA-rich areas and puffs, DNA puffs, heterochromatin). The aim was to find variability in the Mg2+ concentration at which metachromasy was completely prevented (= critical electrolyte concentration; CEC) and that could reflect differences at the level of nucleoprotein complexes in particular chromosome regions and developmental phases. Although high CEC values have been found in tightly packed chromatin such as that of heterochromatin zones, the CEC values for the other regions have proven to be affected not only by availability and proximity of DNA phosphates but also by RNA richness and other factors. Among these, changes in DNA geometry and packing state have been assumed for explaining increased values after RNA removal in DNA puffs and RNA-rich zones. Based on CEC values it has been suggested that alterations at the level of nucleoprotein complexes may occur in puffs before they are morphologically detectable. CEC results for polytene chromosomes were thus revealed to vary considerably with slight variations in nucleoprotein composition and organization. However, since a complex and apparently contradictory rationale has to be used for explaining part of the results, CEC is not recommended as a useful tool for extensive and comparative studies of this particular model.