To evaluate the clinical value of the expression of multidrug resistance P-glycoprotein (P-170) on the surface of acute nonlymphoblastic leukemia (ANLL) cells, we analyzed specimens from 150 newly diagnosed patients for staining with MRK16, a monoclonal antibody (MoAb) that binds to an external epitope of P-170. Other surface markers (CD13, CD14, CD15, and CD34) were studied by the same technique. A marker was considered positive when 20% or more cells were stained. Of 150 samples, 71 were P-170-positive. These cases did not differ from P-170-negative cases with regard to age, sex, initial white blood cell (WBC) counts, or French-American-British (FAB) type (except for M3 ANLL, which were more frequently negative). However, leukemias arising from previous myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and therapy- induced leukemias were more frequently P-170-positive. CD34 and P-170 expression were significantly associated. All patients were treated by intensive chemotherapy. Complete remission (CR) rates were significantly lower in P-170-positive (23/71, 32%) than in P-170- negative cases (64/79, 81%) (P less than 10(-5)). CD34 positivity was also associated with a low remission rate (P less than 10(-5)). Survival was shorter for P-170- and CD34-positive patients (P less than 10(-5)). The prognostic value of both markers was confirmed in multivariate analysis. CR duration was also shorter for P-170-positive cases, but the difference is less significant (P = .05). It is concluded that P-170 analysis may be an important tool for predicting the outcome of intensive chemotherapy in ANLL patients.