Ribonucleotide reductase subunits M1 (RRM1) and M2 (RRM2) are involved in the metabolism of gemcitabine (2',2'-difluorodeoxycytidine), which is used for the treatment of nonsmall cell lung cancer. The mRNA expression of RRM1 and RRM2 in tumours from lung adenocarcinoma patients treated with docetaxel/gemcitabine was assessed and the results correlated with clinical outcome. RMM1 and RMM2 mRNA levels were determined by quantitative real-time PCR in primary tumours of previously untreated patients with advanced lung adenocarcinoma who were subsequently treated with docetaxel/gemcitabine. Amplification was successful in 42 (79%) of 53 enrolled patients. Low levels of RRM2 mRNA were associated with response to treatment (P< 0.001). Patients with the lowest expression levels of RRM1 had a significantly longer time to progression (P=0.044) and overall survival (P=0.02) than patients with the highest levels. Patients with low levels of both RRM1 and RRM2 had a significantly higher response rate (60 vs 14.2%; P=0.049), time to progression (9.9 vs 2.3 months; P=0.003) and overall survival (15.4 vs 3.6; P=0.031) than patients with high levels of both RRM1 and RRM2. Ribonucleotide reductase subunit M1 and RRM2 mRNA expression in lung adenocarcinoma tumours is associated with clinical outcome to docetaxel/gemcitabine. Prospective studies are warranted to evaluate the role of these markers in tailoring chemotherapy.