Exposure of A2780 human ovarian tumor cells to a low concentration of melphalan in vitro for 7 days resulted in the development of melphalan resistance. This resistance was not a stable characteristic of the cells since it was lost after 2 weeks in culture in the absence of drug. The melphalan-resistant cells exhibited significant cross-resistance to cisplatin but only minor cross-resistance to doxorubicin. The resistant cells had elevated levels of glutathione-S-transferase activity and mRNA. Exposure of the cells to the ethacrynic acid resulted in a decrease in enzyme activity as well as a reversal of their drug-resistant phenotype, indicating that the enzyme is involved in the resistance. When ethacrynic acid was present during the 7-day exposure of the cells to melphalan, the development of drug resistance was prevented. This system may serve as a useful preliminary step in screening for agents which can prevent the development of chemotherapy-induced drug resistance in human cancer.