In order to study the double-strand DNA passage reaction of eukaryotic type II topoisomerases, a quantitative assay to monitor the enzymic conversion of supercoiled circular DNA to relaxed circular DNA was developed. Under conditions of maximal activity, relaxation catalyzed by the Drosophila melanogaster topoisomerase II was processive and the energy of activation was 14.3 kcal . mol-1. Removal of supercoils was accompanied by the hydrolysis of either ATP or dATP to inorganic phosphate and the corresponding nucleoside diphosphate. Apparent Km values were 200 microM for pBR322 plasmid DNA, 140 microM for SV40 viral DNA, 280 microM for ATP, and 630 microM for dATP. The turnover number for the Drosophila enzyme was at least 200 supercoils of DNA relaxed/min/molecule of topoisomerase II. The enzyme interacts preferentially with negatively supercoiled DNA over relaxed molecules, is capable of removing positive superhelical twists, and was found to be strongly inhibited by single-stranded DNA. Kinetic and inhibition studies indicated that the beta and gamma phosphate groups, the 2'-OH of the ribose sugar, and the C6-NH2 of the adenine ring are important for the interaction of ATP with the enzyme. While the binding of ATP to Drosophila topoisomerase II was sufficient to induce a DNA strand passage event, hydrolysis was required for enzyme turnover. The ATPase activity of the topoisomerase was stimulated 17-fold by the presence of negatively supercoiled DNA and approximately 4 molecules of ATP were hydrolyzed/supercoil removed. Finally, a kinetic model describing the switch from a processive to a distributive relaxation reaction is presented.