A subclone HL60/DOX was selected from a human leukemic HL60 cell line for resistance to doxorubicin (DOX) by exposure to stepwise increasing concentrations of the drug and coexposure to a potential P-glycoprotein (P-gp) inhibitor, cepharanthine (a biscoclaurine alkaloid). Compared with the parent HL60 cells, the HL60/DOX cells were 13.0-fold more resistant to DOX and showed multidrug-resistant (MDR) phenotype characterized by 4.6-fold, 2.3-fold, and 5.7-fold cross-resistance to vincristine, pirarubicin, and etoposide, respectively, but no cross-resistance to alkylating agent, cisplatin. Immunocytochemical analyses using the specific monoclonal antibody, MRPr1, and quantitative analyses using a competitive reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (CRT-PCR) confirmed overexpression of MRP gene products (about 8-fold determined by CRT-PCR) in this resistant clone. The P-gp expression was not detectable by the monoclonal antibody, C219, in the HL60/DOX cells, and that was consistent with extremely low levels of mdr1 mRNA expression determined by CRT-PCR in this clone. Drug accumulation and efflux studies demonstrated the significantly increased efflux rate of DOX compared to the parent HL60 cells. This enhancement of DOX efflux was reversed by the addition of 10 microM verapamil. To investigate the additional underlying mechanisms contributing to MDR phenotype in the HL60/DOX cells, the levels of DNA topoisomerases (Topo) including Topo I, Topo IIalpha, and Topo IIbeta, and gamma-glutamylcystein synthetase (y-GCS) expression were determined using CRT-PCR techniques. Normal expression of each enzyme at the transcriptional level was demonstrated in this resistant clone. Southern blot analysis of the gene organization in the HL60/DOX cells revealed the amplification of MRP gene. These results indicate that alteration of the drug accumulation from enhanced efflux appears to be a major mechanism(s) of MDR phenotype and attributable to high levels of MRP expression in the HL60/DOX cells. Overexpression of MRP in this clone is regulated by the genomic amplification of DNA and increased levels of the MRP mRNA, independently with the normal expression of Topo I, Topo IIalpha, Topo IIbeta, or gamma-GCS.