The role of DNA topoisomerases in eucaryotic class III gene transcription in vitro has been studied through the use of inhibitory drugs and antisera to DNA topoisomerases I and II. The DNA topoisomerase II inhibitors, novobiocin and coumermycin AI, were found to inhibit transcription of cloned 5S and tRNA genes. Novobiocin acts by interfering with an ATP-requiring step in the pathway to stable preinitiation complex formation. However, it is unlikely that this step reflects the enzymatic action of DNA topoisomerase II since a specific inhibitor of this enzyme (VM-26) and anti-DNA topoisomerase II antibodies fail to inhibit transcription under conditions where topoisomerase II enzymatic activity is inhibited. Similarly, a specific inhibitor of DNA topoisomerase I (camptothecin) and anti-DNA topoisomerase I antibodies fail to inhibit class III gene transcription. These results argue against a role for either DNA topoisomerase in 5S or tRNA gene transcription in vitro.