We have developed a series of aryl hydrocarbon (AH)-resistant cell lines derived from MCF-7 human breast epithelial cancer cells by continuous exposure to the AH benzo[a]pyrene. These cell lines display cross-resistance to the mammary carcinogen dimethylbenz[a]anthracene (DMBA). Apoptosis induced by exposure to DMBA is greatly decreased in the resistant cell lines compared to the wild-type, in proportion to the level of resistance. Apoptosis induced by DMBA could be blocked by inhibitors of DMBA metabolism such as alpha-naphthoflavone and diosmetin. We therefore examined the resistant cell lines for their ability to metabolize DMBA and for the formation of DMBA-DNA adducts, and found that both parameters were decreased compared to wild-type cells in proportion to the level of resistance. When exposed to DMBA or 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, the resistant cell lines have a diminished capacity to carry out ethoxyresorufin-O-deethylation, indicating that the induction of cytochrome P450 1A1 (CYP1A1) enzyme is impaired. We therefore examined the expression of the CYP1A1 gene, and found reduced levels of both CYP1A1 mRNA and CYP1A1-promoter controlled transcription in resistant cells compared to the wild-type. The deleterious effects of AHs are believed to be mediated by the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), a ligand-activated transcription factor which regulates CYP1A1 expression. Resistant cell lines had a reduced expression of the AhR, as measured at the mRNA and protein levels. These data demonstrate that AH resistance in these cells is mediated by changes in the signal transduction pathway which regulates CYP1A1 expression.