Several clinically active anticancer drugs are known to interfere with DNA topoisomerase II activity. However, the importance of the individual alpha (170 kDa) and beta (180 kDa) isozymes as targets of topoisomerase II-active drugs is not clear. To address this question, human CCRF-CEM leukemia cells were incubated with bromodeoxyuridine, and either the nascent DNA or bulk DNA not undergoing replication was purified by immunoprecipitation with an anti-bromodeoxyuridine antibody. The topoisomerase II isozymes that coprecipitated with either the nascent DNA or bulk DNA were analyzed by Western blotting. The alpha isozyme formed complexes with nascent DNA in cells pretreated with either VM-26 or mitoxantrone, while the beta isozyme was only bound to bulk DNA. At moderately cytotoxic concentrations, VM-26 enhanced the binding of topoisomerase II alpha to nascent DNA at least 5.2-fold compared to bulk DNA. However, in VM-26 resistant CEM/VM-1 cells incubated with equitoxic concentrations of VM-26, topoisomerase II alpha complex formation with nascent DNA was decreased at least 5.5-fold compared to bulk DNA. Drug-induced binding of topoisomerase II beta with bulk DNA in CEM/VM-1 cells did not correlate with cytotoxicity. Collectively, these results indicate that the formation of VM-26 stabilized complexes of topoisomerase II alpha with nascent DNA are critical to the development of cytotoxicity, and that resistance of CEM/VM-1 cells to VM-26 is related to impaired formation of these complexes. The results also provide indirect evidence that topoisomerase II alpha is involved in DNA, replication.