Although cellular drug resistance is considered to be an important cause of the poor prognosis of children with relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), the knowledge of drug resistance in these patients is very limited. Different aspects of drug resistance were studied in 17 children with relapsed ALL. The in vitro sensitivity profile was determined using the MTT assay. Cells from relapsed children were significantly more resistant to 6-thioguanine, prednisolone, cytosine arabinoside, daunorubicin (DNR), mustine-HCl and mafosfamide but not to L-asparaginase and vincristine (VCR) than cells from 41 children with ALL at initial diagnosis. Some relapsed patients showed a general drug resistance while others were resistant to only 1-3 drugs. The relevance of the multidrug resistance (MDR) model was analysed: In all DNR- and VCR resistant cases a co-resistance to drugs not involved in the MDR model was found. P-glycoprotein was not detected in any of 28 untreated and 14 relapsed samples tested. VCR- and DNR accumulation in the most resistant cells were not lower than in sensitive cells. Resistance modifiers did not potentiate the cytotoxicity of VCR and DNR. We conclude that resistance to anthracyclines and vinca- alkaloids in childhood relapsed ALL is not due to P-glycoprotein mediated MDR. Different types of drug resistance varying from a resistance to only one drug to a general chemoresistance, can be detected in children with relapsed ALL. VCR and L-asparaginase seemed to be only infrequently involved in drug resistance. Knowledge of drug resistance might lead to more effective and less toxic therapies for children with relapsed ALL.