Multidrug resistance (MDR) may be associated with the expression of the MDR1 gene which encodes the 170-kDa cell surface P-glycoprotein (PGP) acting as an energy-dependent multidrug efflux pump. This pump can be inhibited by a variety of drugs including cyclosporin A, quinidine, and verapamil. Substrate specificity of the MDR1 gene product can be altered by a point mutation at amino acid residue 185 in which valine is substituted for glycine, but the effect of this mutation on inhibition of PGP is unknown. Multidrug-resistant NIH3T3 cells transfected with the MDR1 retroviral vector pHaMDR-1/A (G185) or pHaMDR1/A (V185) expressing comparable levels of PGP were compared for patterns of drug resistance and inhibition of drug resistance by MDR reversing agents. The NIH-MDR-G185 transfectants were somewhat preferentially resistant to daunorubicin, taxol, and vinblastine. The mutant (V185) conferred increased resistance to colchicine. This MDR phenotype in both NIH-MDR-G185- and NIH-MDR-V185-transfected NIH3T3 cells was overcome by the addition of cyclosporin A, quinidine, or verapamil. Verapamil was the most potent of the three agents affecting wild-type PGP. However, specific inhibitors showed different potency with wild-type or mutant transporters, depending on the cytotoxic drug whose resistance was being reversed. For example, cyclosporin A at a concentration of 1 microgram/ml, was a powerful reverser of taxol and colchicine resistance for the mutant drug transporter, but was much less effective for the wild-type transporter. In contrast, verapamil reversed resistance to vinblastine more efficiently for the wild-type transporter than for the mutant transporter. These results suggest that the sensitivity of a multidrug transporter to a reversing agent will depend on the reversing agent, the cytotoxic drug, and the presence or absence of mutations which alter substrate specificity.