P-glycoprotein (P-gp), encoded in humans by the mdr-1 gene, acts physiologically as an efflux pump to expel hydrophobic substances from cells. This glycoprotein is closely related to multidrug resistance in tumor cells and can be modulated by cyclosporin A (CsA). We investigated the relationship between CsA and P-gp in 52 renal allograft biopsies and in cultures of Madin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) renal tubule cells to determine whether the intrarenal accumulation of CsA or chronic stimulation with the drug modified the expression of P-gp. Expression of P-gp and CsA was analyzed by immunohistochemistry. Immunostaining was evaluated semiquantitatively. Modulation of P-gp in MDCK cells after chronic stimulation with CsA for 7, 30, and 60 days was analyzed by flow cytometry. P-gp and CsA immunostaining in renal post-transplant biopsies showed considerable overlap in all cases (Spearman's test, r = 0.577, P < 0.001). After 7 days in vitro, the number of cells expressing P-gp increased progressively; a further increase in mean fluorescence was found after 60 days (P < 0.001, Student's t-test). Our findings suggest that in non-neoplastic cells, CsA may stimulate P-gp as a mechanism of detoxification. Individual differences in the adaptive responses to glycoprotein may be responsible for the appearance of nephrotoxicity or a CsA-resistant rejection reaction in cases of overexpression on lymphocytes and macrophages.