DNA topoisomerase I is a major cellular target for antitumor indolocarbazole derivatives (IND) such as the antibiotic rebeccamycin and the synthetic analogue NB-506 which is undergoing phase I clinical trials. We have investigated the mechanism of topoisomerase I inhibition by a rebeccamycin analogue, R-3, using the wild-type human topoisomerase I and a well-characterized recombinant enzyme, F361S. The catalytic activity of this mutant remains fully intact, but the enzyme is resistant to inhibition by camptothecin (CPT). Here we show that the mutated enzyme is cross-resistant to the rebeccamycin analogue. Despite their profound structural differences, CPT and R-3 interfere similarly with the activity of the wild-type and mutant topoisomerase I enzymes, and the drug-induced cleavable complexes are equally sensitive to the NaCl concentration. CPT and IND likely recognize identical structural elements of the topoisomerase I-DNA covalent complex; however, differences do exist in terms of sequence-specificity of topoisomerase I-mediated DNA cleavage. For the first time, a molecular model showing that CPT and IND share common steric and electronic features is proposed. The model helps to identify a specific pharmacophore for topoisomerase I inhibitors.