1DNA topoisomerase II (topo II) is a nuclear enzyme that modifies DNA topology and also serves as a target to mediate the cytotoxicity of several antineoplastic agents. Several reports have demonstrated that a reduction of topo II is associated with reduced sensitivity to these agents. Topo II exists as two isoforms in mammalian cells: topo IIalpha and topo IIbeta. In MCF-7 cells, the half-life (mean +/- SEM) values of topo IIalpha and topo IIbeta in situ were 6.6 +/- 0.3 and 17.6 +/- 2.3 hr, respectively, as determined by [(35)S]methionine/cysteine pulse-chase analysis. Degradation of topo IIalpha in situ was abrogated by the presence of proteasome inhibitors, and the relative activities were carbobenzoxy-leucyl-leucyl-leucinal (MG132) > carbobenzoxy-leucyl-leucyl-norvalinal (MG115) > ALLN congruent with lactacystin. ATP-dependent degradation of topo IIalpha, but not topo IIbeta, was observed in extracts of asynchronously dividing HeLa and MCF-7 cells. Furthermore, degradation of topo IIalpha was abrogated by the proteasome inhibitors MG132 and MG115, but not by lactacystin, in extracts of asynchronously dividing MCF-7 cells. Finally, degradation of topo IIalpha, but not topo IIbeta, was observed to occur in a cell cycle-dependent fashion, in extracts of synchronized HeLa cells, with maximal loss of the alpha isoform occurring 2 hr after release from mitotic arrest. This degradation of topo IIalpha appeared to be facilitated by an ATP-dependent activity. Furthermore, high molecular weight bands (>200 kDa), which may represent polyubiquitinated-topo IIalpha conjugates, were also detected in extracts of synchronized HeLa cells. This study provides evidence for a role of the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway in the cell cycle-dependent regulation of topo IIalpha expression.