Expression of three major classes of glutathione S-transferases (GSTs), i.e. alpha, mu and pi class, P-glycoprotein (P-gp) and multidrug resistance-associated protein (MRP) were studied in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and normal peripheral blood lymphocytes by flow cytometry. In vitro cytotoxicity of 4-hydroxy-ifosfamide (IFOS), daunorubicin (DNR) and prednisolone (PRED) was assessed by the MTT assay. Expression of alpha, mu and pi class GST did not significantly differ between leukaemic cells from 100 initial and 14 unrelated relapse ALL patients (GSTalpha P=026; GSTmu P=O009; GSTpi P=0.13). The expression of GSTalpha (1.4-fold, P=0.0004), GSTpi (13-fold, P = 0001) and to a lesser extent also GSTmu (1.1-fold, P=0.03) was higher in ALL compared with normal peripheral blood lymphocytes. Expression of GSTmu and GST7pi was significantly higher in 18 AML compared with 100 ALL patients at initial diagnosis (respectively 1.3-fold, P=0.0005 and 2-fold, P<0.0001). In contrast, GSTalpha was median 2-fold lower expressed in the AML samples (P< 0.0001). Expression levels of alpha, mu and pi class GSTs were not related to the degree of resistance to IFOS, DNR and PRED nor to immunophenotype, white blood cell count or age at presentation of childhood ALL. One exception was a remarkably low expression of GSTalpha in IFOS-sensitive samples compared with a heterogenous expression in IFOS-resistant samples (P= 0.02). Expression of GSTpi, but not of GSTalpha or GSTmu, weakly correlated with the expression of MRP (Rs 0.36, P = 0.002, n = 74) but not with P-gp. However, a high expression of both GSTpi and MRP was not associated with in vitro resistance to IFOS, DNR or PRED. The present data suggest that expression of GSTs is not linked to the degree of resistance to IFOS, DNR and PRED or clinical risk factors in childhood ALL. Whether the high expression of GSTmu and GSTpi in AML cells contributes to the relative resistance to IFOS, DNR and PRED compared with ALL samples (P < or = 0.0001) warrants further study.