Surface membrane glycoproteins (SMGs) of cells from the parental wild- type HL-60 cell line and from three sublines variably cross-resistant to the granulocyte differentiation-inducing effects of retinoic acid (RA), dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO), and certain purine bases (6-thioguanine [6TG] or hypoxanthine) were studied by one-dimensional and two- dimensional gel electrophoresis. After both oligosaccharide (periodate/borotritide) and peptide (1,3,4,6-tetrachloro-3 alpha, 6 alpha-diphenylglycouril) ectolabeling procedures, striking common changes were noted in the gel electrophoretic patterns of the SMGs from the RA- and 6TG-resistant sublines compared to those from the wild-type HL-60 line or the DMSO-resistant subline. Most prominently, this included the presence in the RA- and 6TG-resistant cells of an apparent high molecular weight acidic glycoprotein(s) (mol wt, 200 to 285 kilodaltons [kD]; isoelectric point range [pl], 4.5 to 6.0) not observed in the wild-type or DMSO-resistant cells and, conversely, the presence of a lower molecular weight glycoprotein(s) (mol wt, 120 to 165 kD; pl, 4.2 to 5.9) in the wild-type and DMSO-resistant cells, which was absent or much reduced in the RA- and 6TG-resistant cells. These acidic SMGs did not change as a function of the induction of granulocyte differentiation. However, some other more basic SMGs varied as a function of granulocyte differentiation in both the wild-type and differentiation inducer-resistant sublines, including the loss of the transferrin receptor and the gain of a mol wt 55- to 60-kD neutrophil- associated protein. In the context of previously reported information, these results indicate (1) that the overall pattern of SMG changes in the RA- and 6TG-resistant cells closely resembles that associated with multidrug (pleiotropic) resistance to cytotoxic agents in a variety of mammalian cells; (2) that the RA/6TG resistance-associated SMG changes are not granulocyte differentiation stage-specific; and (3) that either the RA/6TG resistance-associated SMG changes are not related to the resistance mechanism or they are involved in the resistance/cross- resistance mechanism(s) for RA/purine bases but not for DMSO.