The effect of the bisdioxopiperazine cardioprotector ICRF-187 (ADR-529, dexrazoxan) on drug-induced DNA damage and cytotoxicity was studied. Using alkaline elution assays, ICRF-187 in a dose-dependent manner inhibited the formation of DNA single strand breaks (SSBs) as well as DNA-protein cross-links induced by drugs such as VP-16 (etoposide), m-AMSA [4'-(9-acridinylamino)-methanesulfon-m-anisidide], daunorubicin and doxorubicin (Adriamycin) which are known to stimulate DNA-topoisomerase II cleavable complex formation. Thus, 50% inhibition of DNA SSBs induced by 5 microM doxorubicin occurred already at equimolar ICRF-187. In contrast, ICRF-187 did not affect DNA SSBs induced by H2O2. In clonogenic assay, ICRF-187 in non-toxic doses antagonized both VP-16 and daunorubicin cytotoxicity in a dose-dependent manner. Our results indicate that the previously described acute in vivo protection by ICRF-187 against anthracycline toxicity may be due to inhibition of topoisomerase II activity. The antagonistic effect of ICRF-187 on daunorubicin cytotoxicity should be taken into consideration when planning clinical trials.