The cytotoxicity of etoposide and its analogues, dihydroxy (DHVP), o-quinone (VP-Q) and o-methyl (VP-OMe), was evaluated in human breast (MCF-7) and HL60 tumour cells. Although less potent than etoposide, both DHVP and VP-Q were cytotoxic to these cells. However, VP-OMe was inactive. Studies with purified topoisomerase II showed that the intensity of DNA cleavage and the pattern of cleavage were similar for DHVP, VP-Q and etoposide. In contrast, the VP-OMe failed to induce DNA cleavage, indicating that the presence of 4'-OH is essential for metabolism, induction of topoisomerase II-mediated DNA cleavage and cytotoxicity of etoposide and its analogues.