Site-specific DNA cleavage by topoisomerase II (EC 184.108.40.206) is induced by many antitumour drugs. Although human cells express two genetically distinct topoisomerase II isoforms, thus far the role and determinants of drug-induced DNA cleavage have been examined only for alpha. Here we report the first high-resolution study of amsacrine (mAMSA) induced DNA breakage by human topoisomerase II beta (overexpressed and purified from yeast) and a direct comparison with the recombinant alpha isoform. DNA cleavage in plasmid pBR322 and SV40 DNA was induced by alpha or beta in the absence or presence of the antitumour agent mAMSA, and sites were mapped using sequencing gel methodology. Low-resolution studies indicated that recombinant human alpha promoted DNA breakage at sites akin to those of beta, although some sites were only cleaved by one enzyme and different intensities were observed at some sites. However, statistical analysis of 70 drug-induced sites for beta and 70 sites for alpha revealed that both isoforms share the same base preferences at 13 positions relative to the enzyme cleavage site, including a very strong preference for A at +1. The result for recombinant alpha isoform is in agreement with previous studies using alpha purified from human cell lines. Thus, alpha and beta proteins apparently form similar ternary complexes with mAMSA and DNA. Previous studies have emphasized the importance of DNA topoisomerase II alpha; the results presented here demonstrate that beta is an in vitro target with similar site determinants, strongly suggesting that beta should also be considered a target of mAMSA in vivo.