In vitro studies demonstrated that the accumulation of 2-deoxy-D-glucose was reduced in multidrug resistant cell lines. In animal study, it has been suggested that 2-[18F]fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose (FDG) may be a marker for multidrug resistance (MDR). The aim of this clinical study was to compare MDR characteristics by immunohistochemical assay with FDG uptake and investigate whether FDG is a marker for MDR in patients with untreated lung cancer. Forty-seven patients with 49 untreated lung cancers, who had undergone both preoperative FDG PET imaging and thoracotomy, were enrolled in this study. Before surgery, FDG PET was performed 40 min after injection, and standardized uptake values (SUVs) were obtained. Patients were classified into low-SUV (< or = 5) and high-SUV (> 5) groups. After surgery, the expression of P-glycoprotein (Pgp) was investigated by immunohistochemistry, and the lung cancer FDG uptake was analysed for possible association with Pgp expression. The strong intensity of Pgp immunoreactivity was seen only in the low-SUV group. The percentage of the Pgp positive area was significantly lower in the high-SUV group (21.7 +/- 13.4%) than in the low-SUV group (44.1 +/- 29.7%) (P = 0.015). In the high-SUV group, the percentage of Pgp positive area did not exceed 50%. In lung adenocarcinoma, the intensity of Pgp immunoreactivity and the percentage of Pgp positive area increased with degree of cell differentiation, while FDG uptake decreased with degree of cell differentiation. Bronchioloalveolar carcinoma, in particular, showed overexpression of Pgp and modest uptake of FDG. In conclusion, Pgp expression was found to be inversely related to FDG uptake in untreated lung cancer. Pgp expression correlated with the degree of cell differentiation in adenocarcinomas, whilst FDG uptake was inversely related to cell differentiation. FDG may be an in vivo marker for MDR in patients with untreated lung cancer.