P-glycoproteins, encoded by families of evolutionarily conserved genes, can confer a multidrug-resistant phenotype to mammalian tumor cells. To obtain more information on their functions in normal cells we have cloned genomic and complementary DNA sequences of four P-glycoprotein gene homologs of the genetically well-characterized nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, termed pgp-1, pgp-2, pgp-3 and pgp-4, respectively. The genes were physically mapped on chromosome IV (pgp-1), I (pgp-2) and X (pgp-3 and pgp-4). Phenotypic mutants corresponding to these loci have not yet been described. Two of the genes, pgp-1 and pgp-3, were analyzed in detail. They are predicted to encode ATP-binding membrane-spanning proteins of 1321 and 1254 amino acid residues, respectively, with the characteristic features shared by most P-glycoproteins described thus far. Intra-species divergence of P-glycoprotein genes is more pronounced in C. elegans than in mammals. Only 40% of the amino acids of pgp-1 and pgp-3 are identical, in contrast to 77% identity between human MDR1 and MDR3. pgp-1 consists of 14 exons, pgp-3 of 13. The two genes share only one intron position, whereas they share four (pgp-1) and five (pgp-3) intron positions with mammalian P-glycoprotein genes. pgp-1, pgp-2, and pgp-3 are transcribed into low abundance mRNAs in wild-type nematodes. pgp-1 and pgp-3 mRNAs have the trans-spliced leader SL1 at their 5' ends. Arsenite, emetine and actinomycin D drugs did not increase the steady state levels of pgp mRNA, unlike in some mammalian cell types. Heat shock disturbed trans as well as cis-splicing of pgp-1 and led to the accumulation of partially processed pgp-1 RNA. Thus, in C. elegans these genes are not induced in the context of a general stress response, as has been proposed for mammalian P-glycoprotein genes in certain tissues.