Multidrug resistance (MDR) was investigated in peripheral blood cells isolated from 40 patients with B cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (B-CLL) and from 7 healthy volunteers, using a flow cytometric assay that detects cellular efflux of the fluorescent dye rhodamine 123 (Rh 123), which has been demonstrated to be transported from the cell by the P-glycoprotein pump. The proportion of B leukemic cells effluxing Rh 123 and thus displaying MDR was low (14 ± 17%) in B-CLL and in only 4 cases did the contingent of B leukemic cells showing MDR represent more than 30% of the total leukemic cells. In contrast, a higher proportion of cells effluxing Rh 123 (44 ± 13%) was demonstrated in normal B lymphocytes. No statistical correlation was found between the number of leukemic B cells displaying MDR and clinical parameters or previous treatment. These results clearly suggest that MDR activity is usually low in B-CLL.

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