P-glycoprotein (P-gp) is expressed at high levels in a variety of non-cancerous tissues such as the endothelial cells of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) capillaries. These thin capillaries tightly regulate the movement of substrates from the circulating blood into the brain. P-gp may be involved in the exclusion of various drugs from the capillary endothelial cells, blocking their entry into the brain. However, interactions of drugs with P-gp expressed in brain capillaries remain to be characterized. We have performed photoaffinity labeling studies using [125I]arylazidoprazosin (IAAP) to evaluate the inhibitory efficiency of various compounds. Cyclosporin A (CsA) and its derivative PSC 833 (PSC) were the most effective inhibitors of IAAP binding among the drugs tested. The magnitude of inhibition was: PSC > CsA > quinidine > vinblastine > verapamil < actinomycin D > colchicine > reserpine > bilirubin > doxorubicin > progesterone. Cremophor El, the vehicle used to administer CsA and PSC intravenously, was also able to inhibit IAAP photolabeling of P-gp. Labeling experiments were also performed using a photoactivatable [3H]CsA derivative. Photolabeling of P-gp with this compound was abolished almost completely by CsA and PSC. In vivo studies were also performed by treating rats with CsA [10 mg/(kg.day) for 10 days]. Following this treatment, no alteration in the level of P-gp expression in brain capillaries was observed. These results suggest that, at the proper dosage, administration of CsA to cancer patients could help to enhance the response of brain tumors to chemotherapeutic agents without modifying the intrinsic level of P-gp expression in this tissue.