The quinolone CP-115,953 (6,8-difluoro-7-(4-hydroxyphenyl)-1-cyclopropyl-4- quinolone-3-carboxylic acid) represents a novel mechanistic class of drugs with potent activity against eukaryotic topoisomerase II in vitro (Robinson, M. J., Martin, B. A., Gootz, T. D., McGuirk, P. R., Moynihan, M., Sutcliffe, J. A., and Osheroff, N. (1991) J. Biol. Chem. 266, 14585-14592). Although the quinolone is highly toxic to mammalian cells in culture, its mechanism of cytotoxic action is not known. Therefore, yeast was used as a model system to determine whether topoisomerase II is the primary target responsible for the in vivo effects of CP-115,953. The quinolone was equipotent to etoposide at enhancing DNA breakage mediated by the Saccharomyces cerevisiae type II enzyme. Moreover, at concentrations as low as 5 microM, CP-115,953 was cytotoxic to yeast cells that carried wild type topoisomerase II (TOP2+). By utilizing a yeast strain that expressed the top2-1 temperature-sensitive mutant, the effect of topoisomerase II activity on quinolone cytotoxicity was determined. At the permissive temperature of 25 degrees C, cells were highly sensitive to CP-115,953. However, at the semipermissive temperature of 30 degrees C (where in vivo enzyme activity is present but is greatly diminished), cells displayed only marginal sensitivity to the quinolone at concentrations as high as 50 microM. These results strongly suggest that topoisomerase II is the primary physiological target responsible for quinolone cytotoxicity and that CP-115,953 kills cells by converting the type II enzyme into a cellular poison.