The phosphorylation of Drosophila melanogaster DNA topoisomerase II by purified casein kinase II was characterized in vitro. Under the conditions used, the kinase incorporated a maximum of 2-3 molecules of phosphate per homodimer of topoisomerase II. No autophosphorylation of the topoisomerase was observed. The only amino acid residue modified by casein kinase II was serine. Apparent Km and Vmax values for the phosphorylation reaction were 0.4 microM topoisomerase II and 3.3 mumol of phosphate incorporated per min per mg of kinase, respectively. Phosphorylation stimulated the DNA relaxation activity of topoisomerase II by 3-fold over that of the dephosphorylated enzyme, and the effects of modification could be reversed by treatment with alkaline phosphatase. Therefore, this study demonstrates that post-translational enzymatic modifications can be used to modulate the interaction between topoisomerase II and DNA.