Endogenous host topoisomerase II acts upon herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) DNA in infected cells (S.N. Ebert, S.S. Shtrom, and M.T. Muller, J. Virol. 56:4059-4066, 1990), and cleavage is directed exclusively at progeny viral DNA while parental DNA is resistant. To evaluate the possibility that HSV-1 induces topoisomerase II activity which could account for the preferential cleavage of progeny viral DNA, we assessed topoisomerase II cleavage activity on cellular and viral DNA substrates before and after the initiation of viral DNA replication. We show that cleavage of a host gene in mock-infected cells was similar to that observed in HSV-1-infected cells, regardless of whether viral DNA replication had occurred. In addition, quantitative measurements revealed comparable amounts of topoisomerase II activity in infected and mock-infected cells; thus, HSV-1 neither induces nor encodes its own type II topoisomerase and cleavages in vivo are due to a preexisting host topoisomerase. Human cells contain two isozymes of topoisomerase II (p170 and p180), encoded by separate genes. Through the use of isozyme-specific antibodies, we demonstrate that only p170 was found to be cross-linked to HSV-1 DNA even though both forms were present at nearly constant levels in HSV-1-infected cells. Immunofluorescence revealed that by 6 h postinfection, p170 becomes redistributed and localized to sites of active viral DNA synthesis. The data suggest that p170 gains preferential access to replicated viral DNA molecules, which explains why topoisomerase II activity is concentrated on progeny DNA.