© 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Five copper(II) complexes, [Cu(sal-Gly)(bipy)](1), [Cu(sal-Gly)(phen)] (2), [Cu(sal-l-Ala)(phen)] (3), [Cu(sal-D-Ala)(phen)] (4), [Cu(sal-l-Phe)(phen)] (5) and five oxidovanadium(IV) complexes, [V IV O(sal-Gly)(bipy)] (6), [V IV O(sal-Gly)(phen)] (7), [V IV O(sal-l-Phe)(H 2 O)] (8), [V IV O(sal-l-Phe)(bipy)] (9), [V IV O(sal-l-Phe)(phen)] (10) (sal = salicylaldehyde, bipy = 2,2′-bipyridine, phen = 1,10-phenanthroline) were synthesized and characterized, and their interaction with DNA was evaluated by different techniques: gel electrophoresis, fluorescence, UV-visible and circular dichroism spectroscopy. The complexes interact with calf-thymus DNA and efficiently cleave plasmid DNA in the absence (only 2 and 5) and/or presence of additives. The cleavage ability is concentration-dependent as well as metal and ligand-dependent. Moreover, DNA binding experiments show that the phen-containing Cu II and V IV O compounds display stronger DNA interaction ability than the corresponding bipy analogues. The complexes present cytotoxic activity against human ovarian (A2780) and breast (MCF7) carcinoma cells. Cell-growth inhibition (IC 50 ) of compounds 1, 2 and 5 in human promyelocytic leukemia (HL60) and human cervical cancer (HeLa) cells were also determined. The copper complexes show much higher cytotoxic activity than the corresponding vanadium complexes and the reference drug cisplatin (except for the sal-Gly complexes); namely, the phenanthroline copper complexes 2-5 are ca. 10-fold more cytotoxic than cisplatin and more cytotoxic than their bipyridine analogues.