Type I restriction enzymes cleave DNA at non-specific sites far from their recognition sequence as a consequence of ATP-dependent DNA translocation past the enzyme. During this reaction, the enzyme remains bound to the recognition sequence and translocates DNA towards itself simultaneously from both directions, generating DNA loops, which appear to be supercoiled when visualised by electron microscopy. To further investigate the mechanism of DNA translocation by type I restriction enzymes, we have probed the reaction intermediates with DNA topoisomerases. A DNA cleavage-deficient mutant of EcoAI, which has normal DNA translocation and ATPase activities, was used in these DNA supercoiling assays. In the presence of eubacterial DNA topoisomerase I, which specifically removes negative supercoils, the EcoAI mutant introduced positive supercoils into relaxed plasmid DNA substrate in a reaction dependent on ATP hydrolysis. The same DNA supercoiling activity followed by DNA cleavage was observed with the wild-type EcoAI endonuclease. Positive supercoils were not seen when eubacterial DNA topoisomerase I was replaced by eukaryotic DNA topoisomerase I, which removes both positive and negative supercoils. Furthermore, addition of eukaryotic DNA topoisomerase I to the product of the supercoiling reaction resulted in its rapid relaxation. These results are consistent with a model in which EcoAI translocation along the helical path of closed circular DNA duplex simultaneously generates positive supercoils ahead and negative supercoils behind the moving complex in the contracting and expanding DNA loops, respectively. In addition, we show that the highly positively supercoiled DNA generated by the EcoAI mutant is cleaved by EcoAI wild-type endonuclease much more slowly than relaxed DNA. This suggests that the topological changes in the DNA substrate associated with DNA translocation by type I restriction enzymes do not appear to be the trigger for DNA cleavage.