The effect of taxol (TX) and cisplatin (CDDP), singly or in association, was assessed on two human ovarian cancer cell lines, one sensitive (A2780) and one resistant (A2780 cp8) to CDDP. Cell lines showed a similar sensitivity to TX, whereas different cytotoxicity results were obtained in the two cell lines as a function of TX and CDDP sequence. Specifically, TX followed by CDDP induced simply additive effects in both cell lines, whereas the opposite sequence produced antagonistic effects in A2780 cells and synergistic effects in A2780 cp8 cells. TX, with or without CDDP, induced oligonucleosomal DNA fragmentation typical of the apoptotic process, but the biochemical mechanisms undergoing apoptosis were different in the two cell lines. In fact, in A2780 cells, TX (with or without CDDP) treatment markedly increased p53 as well as p21waf1 protein expression. In A2780 cp8 cells, drug treatment enhanced p53 levels, whereas the expression of p21waf1 was always undetectable at mRNA and protein levels. In the latter cell line, a premature activation of p34cdc2 kinase was observed in correspondence with the drug-induced increase in the S-phase cell fraction. Such an activation was not ascribable to an increase in the overall expression of p34cdc2 or cyclin B1 proteins, but to a dephosphorylation of p34cdc2 kinase. Overall, our results indicate that TX-induced apoptosis in human ovarian cancer cells may be sustained by different events at the cell cycle-control level.