Elevated expression of the membrane transporter p-glycoprotein (pgp) and impaired expression of the nuclear enzyme topoisomerase II (topo II) are well-known mechanisms for in vitro acquired drug resistance. The clinical relevance of topo II remains unclear, whereas a relationship between pgp levels and treatment results has been shown in acute myelogenous leukaemia (AML). We have investigated the relationships between the levels of topo II and pgp, and in vitro sensitivity to etoposide in mononuclear blood cells from 24 patients with AML, 16 with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) and five healthy blood donors. Following incubation with etoposide, AML cells showed more DNA damage, determined by a DNA unwinding technique, than CLL cells (P = 0.001), whereas there was no difference in cellular etoposide accumulation. Pgp and topo IIbeta levels, determined by Western blot, showed a pronounced variation between patients, but no correlation with induced DNA damage, whereas topo IIalpha protein was undetectable. In the AML group, topo IIbeta expression correlated with pgp expression (rho = 0.7, P = 0.001, n = 24). The topo IIbeta expression was 147.4(+/-74.6)% in the pgp+ AML cells (n = 10), compared to 33.4(+/-27.8)% in pgp- AML cells (n = 14) (P = 0.0001). Our results show a previously unknown coexpression of topo IIbeta and pgp in AML, thereby suggesting that topo IIbeta is a potentially interesting resistance factor in AML.