It has been suggested that the inappropriate sequestration of weak-base chemotherapeutic drugs in acidic vesicles by multidrug-resistance (MDR) cells contributes to the mechanisms of drug resistance. The function of the acidic lysosomes can be altered in MDR cells, and so we investigated the effects of lysosomotropic agents on the secretion of lysosomal enzymes and on the intracellular distribution of the weak-base anthracycline daunomycin in drug-resistant renal proximal tubule PKSV-PR(col50) cells and their drug-sensitive PKSV-PR cell counterparts. Imaging studies using pH-dependent lysosomotropic dyes revealed that drug-sensitive and drug-resistant cells exhibited a similar acidic lysosomal pH (around 5.6-5.7), but that PKSV-PR(col50) cells contained more acidic lysosomes and secreted more of the lysosomal enzymes N -acetyl-beta-hexosaminidase and beta-glucuronidase than their parent PKSV-PR cells. Concanamycin A (CCM A), a potent inhibitor of the vacuolar H(+)-ATPase, but not the P-glycoprotein modulator verapamil, stimulated the secretion of N -acetyl-beta-hexosaminidase in both drug-sensitive and drug-resistant cells. Fluorescent studies and Percoll density gradient fractionation studies revealed that daunomycin accumulated predominantly in the lysosomes of PKSV-PR(col50) cells, whereas in PKSV-PR cells the drug was distributed evenly throughout the nucleo-cytoplasmic compartments. CCM A did not impair the cellular efflux of daunomycin, but induced the rapid nucleo-cytoplasmic redistribution of the drug in PKSV-PR(col50) cells. In addition, CCM A and bafilomycin A1 almost completely restored the sensitivity of these drug-resistant cells to daunomycin, doxorubicin and epirubicin. These findings indicate that lysosomotropic agents that impair the acidic-pH-dependent accumulation of weak-base chemotherapeutic drugs may reverse anthracycline resistance in MDR cells with an expanded acidic lysosomal compartment.