DNA topoisomerases, nuclear enzymes that regulate DNA topology, are recognized as the primary targets of effective anti-tumor drugs. These enzymes may also have a role in the repair of DNA damage induced by alkylating agents and platinum compounds; therefore, their expression may be a determinant of tumor response to chemotherapy. Our study was undertaken in an attempt to establish a correlation between the enzyme expression and response of ovarian cancer to cisplatin-based chemotherapy. The expression of topoisomerase I, II alpha and II beta genes was assessed by RNase protection assay in tumor specimens obtained from 37 untreated patients with advanced epithelial ovarian cancer at initial surgery and from 13 pre-treated patients at subsequent laparotomy. The expression levels were compared with those found in 5 specimens from benign ovarian tissue and 5 specimens from normal ovarian tissue. The expression levels in untreated patients were used to establish a correlation with response to high-dose cisplatin therapy. A significant intertumor variability of mRNA expression was noted for all the genes examined. However, a comparison of median values indicated a remarkable increase of expression in malignant tumors over benign or normal tissues only for topoisomerase II alpha. This change is not related to alterations or amplification of topoisomerase II alpha gene. Interestingly, a correlation was found between tumor response to chemotherapy and the expression level of the isoform alpha (but not of topoisomerase II beta and topoisomerase I). The observed correlation suggests a contribution of the enzyme in determining tumor sensitivity. Alternatively, increased expression levels of the alpha isoenzyme gene in responsive tumors might reflect higher fractions of proliferating tumor cells that may be more drug-sensitive than resting cells.