Recent studies indicate that oncogenes may be involved in determining the sensitivity of human cancers to chemotherapeutic agents. To define the effect of HER-2/neu oncogene overexpression on sensitivity to chemotherapeutic drugs, a full-length, human HER-2/neu cDNA was introduced into human breast and ovarian cancer cells. In vitro dose-response curves following exposure to 7 different classes of chemotherapeutic agents were compared for HER-2- and control-transfected cells. Chemosensitivity was also tested in vivo for HER-2- and control-transfected human breast and ovarian cancer xenografts in athymic mice. These studies indicate that HER-2/neu overexpression was not sufficient to induce intrinsic, pleomorphic drug resistance. Furthermore, changes in chemosensitivity profiles resulting from HER-2/neu transfection observed in vitro were cell line specific. In vivo, HER-2/neu-overexpressing breast and ovarian cancer xenografts were responsive to different classes of chemotherapeutic drugs compared to control-treated xenografts with no statistically significant differences between HER-2/neu-overexpressing and nonoverexpressing xenografts. We found no instance in which HER-2/neu-overexpressing xenografts were rendered more sensitive to chemotherapeutic drugs in vivo. HER-2/neu-overexpressing xenografts consistently exhibited more rapid regrowth than control xenografts following initial response to chemotherapy suggesting that a high rate of tumor cell proliferation rather than intrinsic drug resistance may be responsible for the adverse prognosis associated with HER-2/neu overexpression in human cancers.