Sublines of the human small-cell lung carcinoma (SCLC) cell line GLC4 with acquired resistance to teniposide, amsacrine and mitoxantrone (GLC4/VM20x, GLC4/AM3x and GLC4/MIT60x, respectively) were derived to study the contribution of DNA topoisomerase II alpha and -beta (TopoII alpha and -beta) to resistance for TopoII-targeting drugs. The cell lines did not overexpress P-glycoprotein or the multidrug resistance-associated protein but were cross-resistant to other TopoII drugs. GLC4/VM20x showed a major decrease in TopoII alpha protein (54%; for all assays presented in this paper the GLC4 level was defined to be 100%) without reduction in TopoII beta protein; GLC4/AM3x showed only a major decrease in TopoII beta protein (to 18%) and not in TopoII alpha. In GLC4/MIT60x, the TopoII alpha and -beta protein levels were both decreased (TopoII alpha to 31%; TopoII beta protein was undetectable). The decrease in TopoII alpha protein in GLC4/VM20x and GLC4/MIT60x, was mediated by decreased TopoII alpha mRNA levels. Loss of TopoII alpha gene copies contributed to the mRNA decrease in these cell lines. Only in the GLC4/MIT60x cell line was an accumulation defect observed for the drug against which the cell line was made resistant. In conclusion, TopoII alpha and -beta levels were decreased differentially in the resistant cell lines, suggesting that resistance to these drugs may be mediated by a decrease in a specific isozyme.