We have previously reported on the potential use of a novel in vitro human cell-derived model system to investigate the mechanism of action of anticancer agents that directly affect the process of DNA replication. Our cell-free system uses a multiprotein DNA replication complex (designated the DNA synthesome) that has been isolated, characterized, and extensively purified from a wide variety of mammalian cells and tissues. The DNA synthesome is competent to orchestrate simian virus 40 (SV40) origin-specific and large T antigen-dependent DNA replication in vitro. In this study, the synthesome-based cell-free system was tested to evaluate the mechanism of action of 1-β-d-arabinofuranosylcytosine (ara-C), camptothecin (CPT), and doxorubicin (DOX). Using a novel synthesome-based in vitro kinetic assay, we demonstrated that DNA replication mediated by the synthesome is initiated within the SV40 replication origin and proceeds bidirectionally in a manner analogous to that occurring within the cell. Ara-CTP, CPT, and DOX have been found to affect different stages of the in vitro DNA replication process mediated by the complex. Ara-CTP inhibited both the initiation and elongation stages, whereas CPT produced most of its effects by inhibiting the elongation phase of DNA replication. DOX inhibited the termination stage of DNA synthesis mediated by the synthesome. The data presented here support our contention that the DNA synthesome represents a highly effective in vitro model system for investigating the mechanism by which some anticancer agents can directly affect the process of DNA replication.