In order to elucidate the mechanism by which the intercalative antineoplastic drug 4'-(9-acridinylamino)methanesulfon-m-anisidide (m-AMSA) stabilizes the covalent topoisomerase II-DNA cleavage complex, the effect of the drug on the DNA cleavage/religation reaction of the type II enzyme from Drosophila melanogaster was examined. At a concentration of 60 microM, m-AMSA enhanced topoisomerase II mediated double-stranded DNA breakage approximately 5-fold. Drug-induced stabilization of the enzyme-DNA cleavage complex was readily reversed by the addition of EDTA or salt. When a DNA religation assay was utilized, m-AMSA was found to inhibit the topoisomerase II mediated rejoining of cleaved DNA approximately 3.5-fold. This result is similar to that previously reported for the effects of etoposide on the activity of the Drosophila enzyme [Osheroff, N. (1989) Biochemistry 28, 6157-6160]. Thus, it appears that structurally disparate classes of topoisomerase II targeted antineoplastic drugs stabilize the enzyme's DNA cleavage complex primarily by interfering with the ability of topoisomerase II to religate DNA.