Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in infants under 1 year is strongly associated with translocations involving 11q23 (MLL gene), CD10-negative B-lineage (proB) immunophenotype, and poor outcome. The present study analyses the relationship between age, MLL rearrangements, proB-lineage, and in vitro drug resistance determined using the MTT assay. Compared to 425 children aged over 1 year with common/preB (c/preB) ALL, the 44 infants were highly resistant to steroids (for prednisolone (PRED) more than 580-fold, P=0.001) and L-asparaginase (L-ASP) (12-fold, P=0.001), but more sensitive to cytarabine (AraC) (1.9-fold, P=0.001) and 2-chlorodeoxyadenosine (2-CdA) (1.7-fold, P<0.001). No differences were found for vincristine, anthracyclines, thiopurines, epipodophyllotoxines, or 4-hydroperoxy (HOO)-ifosfamide. ProB ALL of all ages had a profile similar to infant ALL when compared with the group of c/preB ALL: relatively more resistant to L-ASP and PRED (and in addition thiopurines), and more sensitive to AraC and 2-CdA. Age was not related to cellular drug resistance within the proB ALL group (<1 year, n=32, vs >/=1 year, n=19), nor within the MLL-rearranged ALL (<1 year, n=34, vs >/=1 year, n=8). The translocation t(4;11)(q21;q23)-positive ALL cases were more resistant to PRED (>7.4-fold, P=0.033) and 4-HOO-ifosfamide (4.4-fold, P=0.006) than those with other 11q23 abnormalities. The expression of P-glycoprotein, multidrug-resistance protein, and lung-resistance protein (LRP) was not higher in infants compared to older c/preB ALL patients, but LRP was higher in proB ALL and MLL-rearranged ALL of all ages. In conclusion, infants with ALL appear to have a distinct in vitro resistance profile with the proB immunophenotype being of importance. The role of MLL cannot be excluded, with the t(4;11) being of special significance, while age appears to play a smaller role.