Multidrug-resistant (MDR) myeloma patients failing chemotherapy may express P-glycoprotein (PGP), which serves as an efflux pump protecting the neoplastic cells. Unknown is whether PGP expression might relate to prior cytotoxic drug exposure. To address this question, we studied 106 consecutive bone marrow samples from 104 myeloma patients with samples studied either before or after therapy and at the time of relapse. We performed an established immunocytochemical assay of PGP using an MDR-1- specific monoclonal antibody and correlated PGP status with prior chemotherapy dosage. Myeloma patients with no prior therapy had a low incidence of PGP expression (6%, 3/47), whereas those receiving chemotherapy had a significantly higher incidence (43%, 21/49) (P < .0001). A substantially higher incidence of PGP expression (50%, 83%, respectively) occurred when the total vincristine dose exceeded 20 mg and when doxorubicin exceeded 340 mg. In the 11 patients who received both high vincristine and doxorubicin dosages (> 20 mg, > 340 mg total dose) there was 100% incidence of PGP expression in the tumor cells. These data provided the basis for a predictive mathematical model from which dose-related PGP expression normograms were generated. Time with myeloma for PGP-negative patients (mean 33 months) had overlapping confidence limits with PGP-positive patients (mean 42 months), suggesting that disease duration was not a significant variable. PGP expression did not correlate with other clinical factors or immunophenotypic factors. Our findings indicate a strong correlation between PGP expression in myeloma and past chemotherapy in myeloma, in particular, related to prior exposure to the natural product agents vincristine and doxorubicin. Additionally, the proportion of PGP- positive plasma cells was significantly higher in the doxorubicin- treated patients than the nondoxorubicin-treated patients (87.7% v 65.17%; P = .013). Combined high vincristine and doxorubicin total dosage appear highly predictive of PGP expression.