Breast cancers are either primarily resistant to chemotherapy (intrinsic resistance), or respond to chemotherapy but later recur with a multidrug-resistant phenotype because of overexpression of the multidrug transporter P-glycoprotein. The MDR1 gene encoding P-glycoprotein may be transcriptionally regulated by a Y-box transcription factor. We now report that, in multidrug-resistant MCF-7 breast cancer cells, nuclear localization of YB-1 is associated with MDR-1 gene expression. In drug-sensitive MCF-7 cells, however, YB-1 was localized to the cytoplasm. Regulated overexpression of YB-1 in drug-sensitive diploid breast epithelial cells induced MDR-1 gene expression and multidrug resistance. In 27 out of 27 untreated primary breast cancers, YB-1 protein was expressed in the cytoplasm although it was undetectable in normal breast tissue of these patients. In a subgroup of tumors (9/27), however, YB-1 was also localized to the nucleus and, in these cases, high levels of P-glycoprotein were present. These results show that in a subset of untreated primary breast cancers, nuclear localization of YB-1 protein is associated with intrinsic multidrug resistance. Our data show that YB-1 has an important role in controlling MDR1 gene transcription and this finding provides a basis for the analysis of molecular mechanisms responsible for intrinsic multidrug resistance in human breast cancer.