Resistance to antineoplastic agents is the major obstacle to curative therapy of cancer. Tumor cell lines with acquired resistance to the antineoplastic agent cis-diamminedichloroplatinum(II) overexpressed metallothionein and demonstrated cross-resistance to alkylating agents such as chlorambucil and melphalan. Human carcinoma cells that maintained high levels of metallothionein because of chronic exposure to heavy metals were resistant to cis-diamminedichloroplatinum(II), melphalan, and chlorambucil. Furthermore, cells transfected with bovine papilloma virus expression vectors containing DNA encoding human metallothionein-IIA were resistant to cis-diamminedichloroplatinum(II), melphalan, and chlorambucil but not to 5-fluorouracil or vincristine. Thus, overexpression of metallothionein represents one mechanism of resistance to a subset of clinically important anticancer drugs.