Identification and quantitative evaluation of drug resistance markers are essential to assess the impact of multidrug resistance (MDR) in clinical oncology. The MDR1 gene confers pleiotropic drug resistance in tumour cells, but other molecular mechanisms are also involved in drug resistance. In particular, the clinical pattern of expression of the other MDR-related genes is unclear and their interrelationships are still unknown. Here, we report standardization of the procedures used to determine a reliable method of semiquantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) using a standard series of drug-sensitive and increasingly resistant cell lines to evaluate the expression of three MDR-related genes, i.e. MDR1 (multidrug resistance gene 1), MRP (multidrug resistance related protein) and GSTp (glutathione-S-transferase p), reported to be endogenous standard genes for normalization of mRNAs. A total of 74 breast cancer surgical biopsies, obtained before any treatment, were evaluated by this method. When compared with classical clinical and laboratory findings, GSTp mRNA level was higher in diploid tumours. However, the main finding of our study suggests a clear relationship between two of these MDR-related gene expressions, namely GSTp and MRP. This finding provides new insight into human breast tumours, which may possibly be linked to the glutathione conjugate carrier function of MRP. Well defined semiquantitative RT-PCR procedures can therefore constitute a powerful tool to investigate MDR phenotype at mRNA levels of different related genes in small and precious tumour biopsy specimens.