The cytotoxic plant alkaloid camptothecin promotes DNA topoisomerase I- linked nicks in DNA by stabilizing a covalently bound enzyme-DNA complex. In the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, substitution of Arg and Ala for the amino acid residues immediately N-terminal to the active site tyrosine in the yeast and human DNA topoisomerase I mutants, top1 vac, results in camptothecin resistance. To examine the mechanism of drug resistance, we assessed the sensitivity of these enzymes to several classes of DNA topoisomerase poisons. Yeast cells expressing the camptothecin-resistant top1 vac mutants were resistant to all of the camptothecin derivatives cytotoxic to wild-type TOP1- expressing cells. This correlated with a significant reduction in drug- induced DNA cleavage in vitro. However, the yeast and human mutant enzymes differed in their responses to the minor groove binding ligand netropsin and to saintopin, a DNA intercalator that targets both DNA topoisomerase I and II. The yeast mutant enzyme demonstrated enhanced sensitivity to the action of saintopin but was resistant to the inhibitory effects of netropsin. In contrast, the human Top1 vac enzyme was resistant to saintopin and indistinguishable from the wild-type enzyme in its response to the netropsin. These results are discussed in terms of enzyme function and the different modes of action of these DNA topoisomerase poisons.