The expression of DNA topoisomerase II alpha and beta genes was studied in murine normal tissues. Northern blot analysis using probes specific for the two genes showed that the patterns of expression were different among 22 tissues of adult mice. Expression levels of topoisomerase II alpha gene were high in proliferating tissues, such as bone marrow and spleen, and undetectable or low in 17 other tissues. In contrast, high or intermediate expression of topoisomerase II beta gene was found in a variety of tissues (15) of adult mice, including those with no proliferating cells. Topoisomerase II gene expression was also studied during murine development. In whole embryos both genes were expressed at higher levels in early than late stages of embryogenesis. Heart, brain and liver of embryos two days before delivery, and these same tissues plus lung and thymus of newborn (1-day-old) mice expressed appreciable levels of the two genes. Interestingly, a post-natal induction of the beta gene expression was observed in the brain but not in the liver; conversely, the expression of the alpha gene was increased 1 day after birth in the liver but not in the brain. However, gene expression of a proliferation-associated enzyme, thymidylate synthase, was similar in these tissues between embryos and newborns. Thus, the two genes were differentially regulated in the post-natal period, and a tissue-specific role may be suggested for the two isoenzymes in the development of differentiated tissues such as the brain and liver. Based on the differential patterns of expression of the two isoforms, this analysis indicates that topoisomerase II alpha may be a specific marker of cell proliferation, whereas topoisomerase II beta may be implicated in functions of DNA metabolism other than replication.