Reactive oxygen species (ROS)-specific mechanisms of drug resistance were explored in paraquat (PQ)-resistant acute myelogenous leukemia cell (OCI/AML-2) sublines. For this, PQ-resistant AML sublines, AML-2/PQ100 and AML-2/PQ400, were selected in the presence of PQ concentrations of 100 microg/ml and 400 microg/ml, respectively. They showed a moderate level of cross resistance to cisplatin and doxorubicin. They were also slightly more resistant than the parental cell (AML-2/WT) to etoposide, camptothecin and daunorubicin. The resistance of PQ-resistant AML-2 sublines to cisplatin seemed to be due to increased amounts of metallothionein, which was not only supported by reversal of resistance to cisplatin by propargylglycin (an inhibitor of metallothionein synthesis) but also confirmed by Western blot analysis and reverse transcription-PCR assay. In addition, both AML-PQ100 and /PQ400 sublines showed increased activities of Cu-, Zn-containing superoxide dismutase (Cu,Zn-SOD) and Mn-containing superoxide dismutase (Mn-SOD), whereas AML-2/PQ400, but not AML-2/PQ100, showed increased glutathione S-transferase activity as compared to that of AML-2/WT. However, there was no difference in other ROS-related cellular antioxidants between AML-2/WT and its PQ-resistant sublines. Taken together, these results strongly suggest that increases in levels of metallothionein, glutathione S-transferase, Cu,Zn-SOD and Mn-SOD play important roles in protective mechanisms against toxicity of PQ or ROS in AML cells.