We recently found that overexpression of p185c-erbB2 in c-erbB2 transfected MDA-MB-435 breast cancer cells (435.eB transfectants) confers a 5-9-fold increase in Taxol resistance. To examine whether Taxol resistance is a common phenomenon in other c-erbB2 overexpressing breast cancer cell lines, we tested a panel of human breast cancer cell lines established from different patients and expressing pl85c-erbB2 at different levels for their sensitivity to Taxol and Taxotere, a synthetic taxoid. Higher expression of p185c-erbB2 in these breast cancer cell lines indeed correlated well with resistance to Taxol and Taxotere, and the degree of resistance was about 100-fold that in c-erbB2-overexpressing 435.eB transfectants, demonstrating that these breast cancer cells are highly resistant to Taxol. Since mdr-1-encoded p-glycoprotein (p170mdr-1) has been implicated in Taxol resistance, we next examined the p170mdr-1 levels in these breast cancer cell lines that are highly resistant to Taxol. Higher levels of p170mdr-1 expression were found in several breast cancer cell lines that are highly resistant to Taxol. Since these same breast cancer cell lines also expressed higher levels of p185c-erbB2, we sought to determine the relative contribution of p185c-erbB2 and p170mdr-1 overexpression to Taxol resistance. We first specifically down-regulated cell surface p185c-erbB2 using anti-p185c-erbB2 monoclonal antibodies and assayed sensitivity of these cells to Taxol. We next specifically inactivated p170mdr-1 function using p170mdr-1 blockers (thioridazine or verapamil) and again assayed Taxol sensitivity. Both p185c-erbB2 down-regulation and p170mdr-1 blockade significantly sensitized the breast cancer cell lines to Taxol. The results indicate that overexpression of either p185c-erbB2 or p170mdr-1 renders human breast cancer cells resistant to Taxol. Furthermore, p185c-erbB2 synergizes with p170mdr-1 conferring higher degrees of Taxol resistance. Finally, combination therapy (down-regulation of p185c-erbB2 plus blocking p170mdr-1 plus administration of Taxol) may be beneficial to breast cancer patients whose tumors express high levels of both p185c-erbB2 and p170mdr-1.