Eukaryotic DNA topoisomerase I catalyzes the relaxation of positively and negatively supercoiled DNA and plays a critical role in processes involving DNA, such as DNA replication, transcription and recombination. The enzyme is encoded by the TOP1 gene and is highly conserved in its amino acid sequence and sensitivity to the anti-neoplatic agent camptothecin. This plant alkaloid specifically targets DNA topoisomerase I by reversibly stabilizing the covalent enzyme-DNA intermediate. Presumably, it is the interaction of these drug-stabilized adducts with other cellular components, such as replication forks, that actually produces the DNA lesions leading to cell death. A conservation of the mechanism(s) of camptothecin-induced cell killing is also implicit in studies of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, where the camptothecin sensitivity of ΔTOP1 yeast cells can be restored by plasmids expressing either yeast or human TOP1 sequences. This genetically tractable system is currently being exploited to describe the specific molecular interactions required for the cytotoxic action of camptothecin. The results of mutational analyses of yeast and human DNA topoisomerase I are presented, as well as a genetic screen designed to identify genes, other than TOP1, that are required for the cytotoxic activity of camptothecin. © 1994 Springer-Verlag.