The contributions of defective mismatch repair and mutated p53 to cisplatin resistance of human tumor cells were analysed. Mismatch repair defects were not associated with a predictable degree of resistance among several tumor cell lines. Repair defective variants of the A2780 ovarian carcinoma cell line which were isolated by selection for a methylation tolerant phenotype and did not express the hMLH1 mismatch repair protein, were highly resistant to cisplatin. Their cisplatin resistance was not a simple consequence of the mismatch repair defect. They were members of a drug-naive subpopulation of A2780 in which a silent hMLH1 gene accompanies a mutated p53. Two complementary approaches indicated that each defect contributes to cisplatin resistance independently and to a different extent. Firstly, separate introduction of a p53 defect into A2780 cells significantly increased their cisplatin resistance; defective hMLH1 provided less extensive protection. Secondly, azadeoxycytidine reactivation of the silent hMLH1 gene or expression of a transfected hMLH1 cDNA sensitized the doubly hMLH1/p53 deficient cells only slightly to cisplatin. Both approaches indicate that defective p53 status is a major determinant of cisplatin resistance and defective mismatch repair is a minor, and independent, contributor. The data have implications for the development of intrinsic cisplatin resistance.