The multidrug-resistant (MDR) phenotype is characterized in vitro by the resistance displayed by cell lines to a broad spectrum of natural product cytotoxic agents. This high level of cross-resistance is due to the increased expression of a membrane glycoprotein termed P- glycoprotein. Encoded in humans by the mdr1 gene, P-glycoprotein functions as an energy-dependent efflux pump of these cytotoxic agents. In this report, we demonstrate that the newly characterized immunosuppressant FK506 and its structural analogue, rapamycin, are capable of functioning as MDR reversal agents. FK506 and rapamycin increase both intracellular, cytotoxic drug (daunomycin) accumulation, and the cytotoxicity of chemotherapeutic agents in multidrug-resistant cells. The increase in cytotoxic drug accumulation is observed at concentrations of FK506 and rapamycin 1,000-fold greater than the concentrations required for FK506 and rapamycin to inhibit T-lymphocyte activation and similar to those shown to be effective for other MDR reversal agents such as cyclosporine A (CsA) and verapamil. The effect of FK506 or rapamycin on both intracellular accumulation and cytotoxicity of daunomycin is additive. This is supported by the ability of FK506 and rapamycin to directly compete the binding of the photoaffinity analogue 125I-iodoaryl azidoprazosin to the P- glycoprotein. The data demonstrate that FK506 and rapamycin represent a new class of structurally distinct molecules that can function as MDR reversal agents and suggest a previously unidentified, potential clinical role for these compounds.