Multidrug resistance (MDR), characterized by a cross-resistance to many natural toxin-related compounds, may be caused either by overexpression of a drug efflux pump such as P-glycoprotein, (P-gP), multidrug resistance proteins MRP1-3, or BCRP/MXR or, in the case of DNA topoisomerase II active drugs, by a decrease in the enzymatic activity of the target molecule termed altered topoisomerase MDR (at-MDR). However, human small cell lung carcinoma (SCLC) cell lines showed a collateral sensitivity to 2',2'-difluorodeoxycytidine (gemcitabine, dFdC) and 1-beta-D-arabinofuranosylcytosine (ara-C). H69/DAU, a daunorubicin (DAU)-resistant variant of H69 with a P-gP overexpression, and NYH/VM, a VM-26 (teniposide)-resistant variant of NYH with an at-MDR, were both 2-fold more sensitive to gemcitabine and 7- and 2-fold more sensitive to ara-C, respectively. MDR variants had a 4.3- and 2.0-fold increased activity of deoxycytidine kinase (dCK), respectively. dCK catalyzes the first rate-limiting activation step of both gemcitabine and ara-C. In addition, deoxycytidine deaminase, responsible for inactivation of dFdC and ara-C, was 9.0-fold lower in H69/DAU cells. The level of thymidine kinase 2, a mitochondrial enzyme that can also phosphorylate deoxycytidine and gemcitabine, was not significantly different between the variants. These differences most likely caused an increased accumulation of the active metabolites (dFdCTP, 2.1- and 1.6-fold in NYH/VM and H69/DAU cells, respectively) and of ara-CTP (1.3-fold in NYH/VM cells). Ara-CTP accumulation was not detectable in either H69 variant. The pools of all ribonucleoside and deoxyribonucleoside triphosphates were at least 3- to 4-fold higher in the NYH variants compared to the H69 variants; for dCTP and dGTP this difference was even larger. The higher ribonucleotide pools might explain the >10-fold higher accumulation of dFdCTP in NYH compared to H69 variants. Since dCTP is low, H69 cells might not need a high ara-CTP accumulation to inhibit DNA polymerase. This might be related to the lack of ara-CTP in H69 variants. In addition, the increased CTP, ATP, and UTP pools in the MDR variants might explain the increased ara-CTP and dFdCTP accumulation. In conclusion, the MDR variants of the human SCLC cell lines were collaterally sensitive due to an increased dCK activity, and consequently an increased ara-CTP and dFdCTP accumulation.