In the face of competing tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs), identification of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) patients expecting favorable response to second-line treatment is warranted. At the time of imatinib resistance, the investigation of multidrug-resistance protein 1 (MDR1) and BCR-ABL yielded the following results: (i) Patients with high MDR1 transcript levels showed superior response at 48 months as compared with low-level MDR1 patients: major molecular response (MMR) in 41% vs 16% (P=0.014), complete cytogenetic response (CCyR) in 58% vs 39% (P=0.044), and progression-free survival (PFS) in 67% vs 46% (P=0.032). (ii) Patients with BCR-ABL(IS) <28% achieved higher MMR rates (48% vs 21%, P=0.009). (iii) PFS at 48 months was associated with in vitro resistance of BCR-ABL kinase domain mutations: 63% (no mutation) vs 61% (sensitive, intermediately sensitive or unknown IC50 (median inhibitory concentration)) vs 23% (resistant, P=0.01). (iv) Single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) at positions 1236 and 2677 were associated with higher MDR1 expression in comparison to wild type. (v) Nilotinib was able to impede proliferation of MDR1-overexpressing imatinib-resistant cells. High MDR1 gene expression might identify patients whose mode of imatinib resistance is essentially determined by increased efflux activity of MDR1 and therefore can be overcome by second-line nilotinib treatment.