The topoisomerase II inhibitors teniposide (VM-26), doxorubicin, and amsacrine (m-AMSA), as well as ionizing radiation, induce a transient suppression of c-myc mRNA, which correlates with growth inhibition of MCF-7 breast tumor cells. To further assess the involvement of c-mvc in the DNA damage-induced signal transduction pathways of the breast tumor cell, we determined the influence of sustained DNA damage on c-myc expression, c-Myc protein levels and c-Myc function. Continuous exposure of MCF-7 breast tumor cells to VM-26 induced DNA strand breaks that were sustained for at least 9 hr. DNA strand breakage was accompanied by a decline in c-myc transcripts and c-Myc protein levels by >90% after VM-26 exposure for 24 hr. The activity of a transcriptional target of the c-Myc protein, ornithine decarboxylase, was reduced by approximately 75% within 9 hr of DNA damage, in parallel to the declines in c-myc mRNA and protein levels. Extended exposure to VM-26 resulted in an initial loss of approximately 35% of the cell population followed by the death of additional cells such that by 72 hr only 50% of the cells were viable. Although apoptosis was evident 72 hr after initiating drug exposure [based on cell cycle analysis, terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick end-labeling (TUNEL) assays, and an assessment of cell morphology], the primary phase of cell killing, which occurred during the first 24 hr was non-apoptotic. These studies indicate that non-apoptotic pathways can also mediate cell death in the breast tumor cell and support the role of c-myc expression, c-Myc protein, and c-Myc function as elements of the DNA damage response pathway in the breast tumor cell.