Whether the phenotypes of drug resistance and metastatic activity in cancer are dependent on each other or not is controversial. We compared in vitro invasive properties of human hepatoma cells resistant to epirubicin and rich in P-glycoprotein (Pgp) (HB8065/R) with the parental epirubicin-sensitive, Pgp-poor cells (HB8065/S). The HB8065/R cells displayed elevated capacity to migrate in a transwell chamber assay (three- to fourfold compared to the HB8065/S cells), both in the absence and presence of a reconstituted basement membrane extract (Matrigel). In the presence of the P-gp inhibitor PSC 833 (1.5 micrograms/ml) the capacity of the HB8065/R cells to cross Matrigel-coated filters was attenuated by approximately 25%. Compared to the HB8065/S cells, the resistant cell line expressed higher level of plasminogen activator inhibitor (PAI)-1 mRNA (approximately threefold), which was reflected by a approximately fivefold increase in secreted PAI-1 immunoactivity (approximately 50 ng/10(6) HB8065/R cells). Furthermore, treatment with PSC 833 was associated with upregulation of PAI-1 mRNA (approximately 3.5-fold) and immunoactivity (approximately twofold) in the HB8065/R cells. Level of tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases (TIMP)-1 was also significantly increased in the HB8065/R cells compared to the HB8065/S cells, whereas both cell lines showed low constitutive expression of TIMP-2. Levels of TIMPs were not altered by PSC 833. These data suggest that overexpression of Pgp in these hepatoma cells may covariate with the phenotypes of both enhanced in vitro invasiveness and high PAI-1 expression, whether randomly acquired or not.