PANC02 is a ductal adenocarcinoma of the pancreas that is resistant to every known class of clinically active antitumor agent. To study the mechanism(s) underlying the intrinsic drug resistance of this tumor, a mammary adenocarcinoma (CA-755) that also grows in C57/BL mice and is known to be drug sensitive was used for comparison. PANC02 resistance and CA-755 sensitivity to several antitumor agents and to X-ray therapy was confirmed in mice, and PANC02 also demonstrated relative resistance in tissue culture. Relative to Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) and CA-755 cells, PANC02 did not appear to show a higher rate of mutation to drug resistance in culture as based on the 6-thioguanine resistance marker. Although P-glycoprotein characteristic of the multidrug resistance (MDR) phenomenon could be demonstrated at the mRNA level using a sensitive RNAse protection assay, the level of expression found was several orders of magnitude lower than that observed in phenotypic MDR cell lines. Furthermore, quinidine failed to increase the sensitivity of PANC02 cells to Adriamycin under conditions that clearly potentiated the toxicity of the drug to a CHO cell line exhibiting classic MDR traits. The heterogeneity in the distribution of drugs was inferred as being significantly greater in PANC02 versus CA-755 cells in vivo as based on measurements of within-animal, within-tumor variance in the distribution of the marker compounds inulin and antipyrine. Although it may not be the only mechanism involved, this greater intratumor heterogeneity in drug distribution could theoretically play a major role in the intrinsic drug resistance of PANC02 in vivo.