Leukemias related to treatment with DNA topoisomerase II inhibitors

Med Pediatr Oncol. 2001 May;36(5):525-35. doi: 10.1002/mpo.1125.


The epipodophyllotoxins etoposide and teniposide and other DNA topoisomerase II inhibitors including anthracyclines and dactinomycin are highly efficacious anticancer drugs. All are associated with a distinct form of leukemia characterized by chromosomal translocations as a treatment complication. Most of the translocations disrupt a breakpoint cluster region (bcr) of the MLL gene at chromosome band 11q23. Other characteristic translocations also may occur. The normal function of the nuclear enzyme DNA topoisomerase II is to catalyze changes in DNA topology between relaxed and supercoiled states by transiently cleaving and re-ligating both strands of the double helix. Anticancer drugs that are DNA topoisomerase II inhibitors are cytotoxic because they form complexes with DNA and DNA topoisomerase II. The complexes decrease the re-ligation rate, disrupt the cleavage-re-ligation equilibrium, and have a net effect of increasing cleavage. The increased cleavage damages the DNA and leads to chromosomal breakage. Cells with irreparable DNA damage die by apoptosis. The association of DNA topoisomerase II inhibitors with leukemia suggests that the drug-induced, DNA topoisomerase II-mediated chromosomal breakage may be relevant to translocations in addition to this anti-neoplastic, cytotoxic action. Epidemiological studies, genomic translocation breakpoint cloning and in vitro DNA topoisomerase II cleavage assays together lead to a model for treatment-related leukemia in which DNA topoisomerase II causes chromosomal breakage and translocations form when the breakage is repaired.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic / adverse effects*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase
  • Humans
  • Leukemia / chemically induced*
  • Myeloid-Lymphoid Leukemia Protein
  • Proto-Oncogenes*
  • Survivors
  • Topoisomerase II Inhibitors*
  • Transcription Factors*
  • Translocation, Genetic


  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • KMT2A protein, human
  • Topoisomerase II Inhibitors
  • Transcription Factors
  • Myeloid-Lymphoid Leukemia Protein
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase