Rat hepatoma cells lacking mitochondrial DNA (rho(o) cells) were used as a model system to examine the possible roles of mitochondrial DNA as a target for the DNA-acting anticancer drug Adriamycin (doxorubicin). The rho(o) cells were 45-fold less sensitive to Adriamycin than the parental rho+ cells containing mitochondrial DNA. Other non-DNA-acting drugs also exhibited similar behaviour, and this was shown to be due to a multidrug resistance (MDR) phenotype in the rho(o) cells. This was indicated by confocal microscopy where rho+ cells exhibited thirteenfold higher cellular levels of Adriamycin than rho(o) cells. Upregulation (tenfold) of P-glycoprotein in rho(o) cells was also confirmed by Northern dot blot analysis. Since the MDR phenotype is present in rho(o) cells and upregulation of P-glycoprotein is maintained in these cells, rho(o) cells are not a good model system for drug-DNA studies (where the drug is susceptible to extrusion by P-glycoprotein), and any such results obtained with this system must be treated with considerable caution.