A range of anthracyclines and related compounds were evaluated for activity against murine and human cell lines exhibiting multidrug resistance (MDR). Cell lines used were the NCI-H69 human small-cell lung cancer line and the EMT6 murine mammary tumour line, together with their multidrug-resistant counterparts produced by in vitro exposure to Adriamycin (ADM). Chemosensitivity testing was carried out using the tetrazolium (MTT) dye assay. Results were expressed as the ratio of the ID50 for the resistant line to that obtained in the parent, i.e. the resistance factor (RF). Compounds exhibiting much lower RF values than ADM in both resistant cell lines were identified as those anthracyclines with 9-alkyl substituents and those with certain changes to the amino sugar residue at position 3' and 4', together with the anthracenedione mitoxantrone (MIT). In a further attempt to overcome resistance, we used four of these compounds, Ro 31-1215, 4'-deoxy-4'-iodo-ADM (iodo-ADM), aclacinomycin A (ACL) and MIT (all yielding low RF values), in combination with the resistance modifiers verapamil (VRP) and cyclosporin A (CYA). Additional enhancement of chemosensitivity was achieved in the ADM-resistant sublines, as shown by the further decrease in RF values. At the concentrations used, the largest effects were generally seen with CYA, and the combination of this modifier with ACL and MIT was particularly effective. For the H69/LX4 resistant line, the latter combinations gave RF values approaching unity. These findings point to the use of analogues with the 9-alkyl substituent and/or specific changes to the sugar residue in combination with resistance modifiers as a therapeutic strategy for circumvention of the MDR phenotype.