P-glycoprotein (P-gp) is a 170 kDa transmembrane glycoprotein which plays a significant role in modulating pleomorphic or multiple drug resistance (MDR) in a wide variety of human cancers like renal and colorectal carcinoma. However, its role in modulating drug resistance in other types of cancer is less well defined. The purpose of this review is to critically examine the evidence that P-gp plays an important role in producing drug resistance in astrocytic gliomas. Malignant astrocytoma is clinically resistant to most types of cytotoxic drugs, including those associated with the MDR phenotype and the cross-resistance patterns of short-term cultures derived from malignant glioma are consistent with this phenotype. Consequently, it might be expected that this tumor would express high levels of P-gp. However, immunohistochemical findings from a number of previous studies have provided conflicting data about the expression of P-gp in these tumors, although P-gp has been consistently detected in normal brain in the endothelial cells in cerebral blood vessels and is thought to contribute to the blood-brain barrier phenomena. In order to determine if P-gp contributes to drug resistance in malignant astrocytoma, we undertook a study of P-gp expression in a panel of short-term cultures derived from these tumors in which we determined the in vitro chemosensitivity. However, immunocytochemical studies with a panel of antibodies which recognize both internal and external epitopes of the P-gp molecule have consistently failed to show the characteristic membrane staining associated with MDR in any of the cultures, including those markedly cross-resistant to vincristine and doxorubicin. One antibody, JSB-1, showed heterogeneous granular cytoplasmic staining which was unrelated to a particular pattern of drug resistance. This is probably because this antibody cross-reacts with a widely distributed cytoplasmic antigen, pyruvate carboxylase, which is present in abundance in normal astrocytes. The unexpectedly poor specificities of many of the antibodies thought to be specific for P-gp is reviewed in the context of malignant astrocytoma. In conclusion, the role of P-gp in producing drug resistance in malignant astrocytoma is questionable and further studies might more profitably concentrate on the mechanisms of resistance to DNA-damaging agents like the nitrosoureas, methylating agents or platinum-based drugs.