Calicheamicin gamma 1 is a potent antitumor antibiotic that cleaves DNA with a high degree of specificity; there is much interest in the recognition process. We have investigated the DNA-cleaving properties of calicheamicin T, a truncated derivative of calicheamicin. We show that calicheamicin T cleaves DNA in a double-stranded fashion, indicating that the first two sugars are sufficient to facilitate binding of the aglycone in the minor groove. However, calicheamicin T cleaves DNA nonselectivity. This result suggests that cyclization kinetics do not determine the cleavage specificity of the intact drug. Instead, cleavage specificity probably reflects binding specificity. Because of the recognition sites reported in the original cleavage paper, calicheamicin has been assumed to recognize oligopyrimidine DNA sequences containing G-C base pairs. We show here that calicheamicin also cuts efficiently at A.T tracts, sometimes in preference to G.C-rich homopyrimidine tracts. Crystallographic data and experiments with chemical probes indicate that DNA sequences including G.C base pairs have significantly different local conformations from DNA sequences containing several (four or more) sequential A.T base pairs. This difference makes it unlikely that calicheamicin simply senses inherent groove conformation and suggests that there is some degree of "induced fit." The ability to recognize both A.T- and G.C-rich oligopyrimidine sequences with a high degree of specificity makes calicheamicin an unusual minor-groove binder.