In this study, we compared the cytotoxicity of cisplatin and carboplatin against a panel of human ovarian cancer cell lines using the MTT assay, a rapid colorimetric test that can be used to evaluate the number of residual viable tumor cells following chemotherapy. The established human ovarian cancer cell line OVCAR-3 and the recently isolated and characterized A721, A90, A286, A1, and A121A cell lines were evaluated for chemosensitivity. Each cell line was treated separately with cisplatin and carboplatin at concentrations ranging from 500 to 0.16 micrograms/ml. Various chemotherapeutic exposure periods (1, 4, 24, and 48 hr) were tested to determine maximal efficacy. All cell lines were more susceptible to cisplatin than carboplatin at all drug concentrations and all exposure periods tested (P = 0.005). The overall median 50% inhibitory concentration (ID50) for cisplatin was 107 micrograms/ml compared with 490 micrograms/ml for carboplatin P = 0.005). For both cisplatin and carboplatin a 24-hr exposure was significantly more cytotoxic than a 1-hr exposure (P = 0.003 and P = 0.006, respectively). These in vitro results suggest that cisplatin is significantly more cytotoxic than carboplatin against human ovarian cancer cell lines and that cisplatin should not be replaced by carboplatin in the treatment of advanced epithelial ovarian cancer until randomized trials using maximum dosing of the cisplatin-containing regimen are performed.