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In mammalian cells, there are two isoforms of DNA topoisomerase II, designated alpha (170-kDa form) and beta (180-kDa form). Previous studies using cell lines have shown that the topoisomerase IIalpha and beta isoforms are differentially regulated during the cell cycle and in response to changes in growth state. Moreover, both isoforms can act as targets for a range of anti-tumour drugs. Here, we have analysed the normal tissue distribution in humans of topoisomerase IIalpha and beta using isoform-specific antibodies. In addition, we have studied expression of these isoforms in 69 primary tumour biopsies, representative either of tumours that are responsive to topoisomerase II-targeting drugs (breast, lung, lymphoma and seminoma) or of those that show de novo drug resistance (colon). Topoisomerase IIalpha was expressed exclusively in the proliferating compartments of all normal tissues, and was detectable in both the cell nucleus and cytoplasm. In biologically aggressive or rapidly proliferating tumours (e.g. high-grade lymphomas and seminomas), there was a high level of topoisomerase IIalpha, although expression was still detectable in colon tumours, indicating that expression of this isoform is not sufficient to explain the intrinsic drug resistance of colon tumours. Topoisomerase IIbeta was expressed ubiquitously in vivo and was localized in both the nucleoli and the nucleoplasm. This isoform was present in quiescent cell populations, but was expressed at a generally higher level in all tumours and proliferating cells than in normal quiescent tissues. We conclude that topoisomerase IIalpha is a strict proliferation marker in normal and neoplastic cells in vivo, but that topoisomerase IIbeta has a much more general cell and tissue distribution than has topoisomerase IIalpha. The apparent up-regulation of topoisomerase IIbeta in neoplastic cells has implications for the response of patients to anti-tumour therapies that include topoisomerase II-targeting drugs.


Journal article


Br J Cancer

Publication Date





1340 - 1346


Antigens, Neoplasm, Blotting, Western, DNA Topoisomerases, Type II, DNA-Binding Proteins, Female, Humans, Immunohistochemistry, Isoenzymes, Male, Neoplasms, Tissue Distribution, Tumor Cells, Cultured