Acquired resistance to cisplatin (cis-diamminedichloroplatinum (II)) has been generated in vitro in the 41M human ovarian carcinoma cell line, established from a previously untreated patient. Three cisplatin-resistant variants were selected at approximately 2, 4 and 6-fold resistance (in terms of 50% inhibitory concentrations), in order to study the underlying mechanisms of acquired cisplatin resistance. Compared to the parent line, platinum accumulation following exposure to equimolar concentrations of cisplatin was on average (across the entire concentration range) 2.9, 3.6 and 4.8-fold lower in the 41McisR2, 41McisR4 and 41McisR6 cell lines, respectively. Thus the difference in uptake corresponded closely with their resistance factor in the three resistant variants. Moreover, a significant reduction in platinum accumulation was observed as early as 5 min after exposure to cisplatin in the 41M vs 41McisR6 cell lines. Platinum accumulation was similar in all cell lines following exposure to equitoxic concentrations (2 h IC50) of cisplatin. Enhanced efflux of drug was not observed between the 41M and 41McisR6 cells. In addition, there was no difference in intracellular glutathione (GSH) levels. Our previous studies have shown no indication of metallothionein involvement and the decrease in cisplatin uptake in the 41McisR6 cells was reflected by a similar reduction in DNA interstrand cross-links (ISC) formation. These results suggest that the mechanism of acquired resistance to cisplatin in the 41McisR6 cell line may be predominantly due to reduced drug uptake. The 41McisR6 cells were not found to be cross-resistant to ouabain, a postulated specific inhibitor of sodium-potassium adenosine triphosphatase (Na+, K(+)-ATPase), suggesting that decreased cisplatin accumulation in these cells is probably not regulated by alterations in their Na+, K(+)-ATPase levels, and Na+ potential across the plasma membrane. Cellular accumulation of a novel class of platinum (IV) ammine/cyclohexylamine dicarboxylates, which exhibit enhanced cytotoxicity over cisplatin and completely circumvent resistance to cisplatin in the 41McisR line, was also examined. The data suggests that increased accumulation of these compounds, as a result of their enhanced lipophilicity, could account for the dramatic increase in their potency over cisplatin.