F14512 is a novel etoposide derivative that contains a spermine in place of the C4 glycosidic moiety. The drug was designed to exploit the polyamine transport system that is upregulated in some cancers. However, a preliminary study suggests that it is also a more efficacious topoisomerase II poison than etoposide [Barret et al. (2008) Cancer Res. 68, 9845-9853]. Therefore, we undertook a more complete study of the actions of F14512 against human type II topoisomerases. As determined by saturation transfer difference (1)H NMR spectroscopy, contacts between F14512 and human topoisomerase IIα in the binary enzyme-drug complex are similar to those of etoposide. Although the spermine of F14512 does not interact with the enzyme, it converts the drug to a DNA binder [Barret et al. (2008)]. Consequently, the influence of the C4 spermine on drug activity was assessed. F14512 is a highly active topoisomerase II poison and stimulates DNA cleavage mediated by human topoisomerase IIα or topoisomerase IIβ. The drug is more potent and efficacious than etoposide or TOP-53, an etoposide derivative that contains a C4 aminoalkyl group that strengthens drug-enzyme binding. Unlike the other drugs, F14512 maintains robust activity in the absence of ATP. The enhanced activity of F14512 correlates with a tighter binding and an increased stability of the ternary topoisomerase II-drug-DNA complex. The spermine-drug core linkage is critical for these attributes. These findings demonstrate the utility of a C4 DNA binding group and provide a rational basis for the development of novel and more active etoposide-based topoisomerase II poisons.