We have studied changes in cyclin A- and B1-dependent kinases during apoptosis induced in human promyelocytic leukemia (HL60) cells treated with the topolsomerase I inhibitor camptothecin. We found that cyclin B1/Cdc2 kinase activity transiently increases within 30 min after camptothecin treatment. This increase is followed by a rapid inactivation of the cyclin B1/Cdc2 kinase that is associated with Cdc2 tyrosine phosphorylation without any change in Cdc2 or cyclin B1 protein levels. The DNA polymerase inhibitor aphidicolin abrogates camptothecin-induced changes in cyclin B1/Cdc2 kinase activity, indicating that DNA replication-induced DNA damage is essential for both Cdc2 alterations and apoptosis activation. Apoptosis and the initial cyclin B1/Cdc2 kinase activation were amplified using synchronized S-phase cells, and cyclin A/cdk2 kinase did not change under these conditions. The same transient activation and subsequent inactivation of cyclin B1/Cdc2 kinase were observed after DNA damage by etoposide or bis-(2-chloroethyl)methylamine hydrochloride. These observations suggest that DNA damage promotes the transient and unscheduled stimulation of cyclin B1/Cdc2 kinase activity in HL60 cells prior to apoptosis.