We have characterised an etoposide-resistant subline of the small-cell lung cancer cell line, UMCC-1, derived at our centre. Subline UMCC-1/VP was developed by culturing the parent line in increasing concentrations of etoposide over 16 months. UMCC-1/VP is 20-fold resistant to etoposide by MTT assays, relative to the parent line, and is cross-resistant to doxorubicin, vincristine and actinomycin D, but not to taxol, cisplatin, melphalan, thiotepa or idarubicin. Topoisomerase II immunoblotting demonstrates a 50% reduction of the protein in the resistant subline. The UMCC-1/VP subline demonstrates a marked decrease in the accumulation of [3H]etoposide relative to the parent line, as well as a modest reduction in the accumulation of daunorubicin. Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction assays demonstrate no detectable mdr1 expression but marked expression of the multidrug resistance-associated protein (MRP) gene in the resistant subline. Northern blotting with an MRP cDNA probe confirms marked overexpression of the MRP gene only in the UMCC-1/VP subline. Western blotting with antisera against MRP peptide confirms a 195 kDa protein band in the UMCC-1/VP subline. Southern blotting experiments demonstrate a 10-fold amplification of the MRP gene in the resistant subline. Depletion of glutathione with buthionine sulphoximine sensitised UMCC-1/VP cells to daunorubicin and etoposide. Our studies indicate that MRP gene expression may be induced by etoposide and may lead to reduced accumulation of the drug.