Renal Cell Carcinomas (RCCs) exhibit strong resistance to the most chemotherapeutic treatments probably due to the expression of various multidrug resistance (MDR) genes. Overexpression of P-glycoprotein (Pgp) is established as one such factor, but other mechanisms such as at-MDR, characterized by attenuated DNA-topoisomerase II (topoII) activity, may be functional as well. In addition, regulating proteins involved in apoptosis can exhibit multidrug resistant features. However, prevention of apoptosis as a mechanism of MDR has not yet been assessed in RCC, nor has the cytotoxicity of a variety of chemotherapeutic agents known to trigger apoptotic or necrotic cell death been tested in RCC in a systematic fashion. Using immunohistochemistry and Western blotting, Bcl-2 and Bax expression was determined in a panel of multidrug resistant RCC lines featuring Pgp and/or at-MDR. The results were related to apoptotic activity and kind of cell death in these cell lines, demonstrated by incubation with Hoechst 33342 and propidium iodide after treatment with various cytotoxic agents and quantitated by MTT. In the drug resistant sublines, some decreased Bax and strongly increased Bcl-2 expression was seen by immunohistochemistry indicating prevention of apoptosis as a distinct feature of MDR in RCC. This was confirmed by Western blotting. Sublines revealed significant resistance for all drugs, except for CC-313 and DiMIQ. However, these drugs induced necrotic cell death, in contrast to all other drugs tested, which induced apoptotic cell death. We conclude that, in chemoselected RCC sublines, multidrug resistance appears to be functional due to inhibition of apoptosis, apart from the MDR1 and at-MDR resistance mechanisms. CC-313 and DiMIQ are very potent cytotoxic agents in RCC, probably because they do not kill by induction of apoptosis.