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Direct observation of the magnetization reversal of epitaxial NiO/NiFe bilayers grown on (001) MgO and on polycrystalline Si substrates was performed by using the magneto-optical indicator film technique. It was shown that the unidirectional-axis magnetization reversal proceeds by domain nucleation and growth. A new phenomenon, an asymmetry in the activity of the domain nucleation centers, has been revealed. Remagnetization of the bilayer is shown to be governed by defect structures in the antiferromagnetic layer. © 1998 American Institute of Physics.