Abstract Overexpression of the major vault protein (MVP) has been linked to a multidrug resistance (MDR) phenotype. We describe a ubiquitously expressed MVP mRNA splice variant (long (L)-MVP) differing from the regular isoform (short (S)-MVP) within the 5′-leader. Only L-MVP mRNA contains a small upstream open reading frame which was proven to inhibit in vitro and in vivo MVP expression in cis. L-MVP represented an almost constant portion of total MVP mRNA in diverse normal tissues, but was more variable in malignant cell types. MDR sublines with altered MVP expression displayed changed S-MVP/L-MVP ratios as compared to their drug-sensitive counterparts. Our results suggest alternative splicing as one mechanism for regulation of MVP expression.