In order to identify changes in 31P nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectra associated with multiple drug resistance (MDR), a number of wild type and drug-resistant cancer cell lines were studied. The resistant cells included cells selected with various drugs, mainly Adriamycin, as well as cells transfected with the human multidrug resistance gene (MDR1 gene), which encodes P-glycoprotein. In most cases, 31P NMR spectra were significantly different from those of parental, drug-sensitive lines. The spectra of resistant cells generally indicated increased levels of ATP and phosphocreatine in the cytoplasm. These changes are compatible with the increased glucose utilization rate previously described for resistant cells. Major changes were also observed in the levels of glycerophosphocholine and glycerophosphoethanolamine. Changes in cellular metabolism reflected by 31P NMR spectra depend on the drug used to select the cells for MDR. The direction of these changes was not consistent for all cell lines studied and could not be directly attributed to expression of P-glycoprotein, suggesting that the changes may be related to alterations in metabolism and membrane function associated with other mechanisms of MDR. The results demonstrate the suitability of 31P NMR for studies of biochemical changes associated with MDR. The toxicity of 2-deoxyglucose, a glucose antimetabolite, was investigated in addition to the NMR studies and was found to be consistently higher in multidrug-resistant cells than in the parental drug-sensitive lines. For MCF-7 breast cancer cells, where several sublines with different levels of resistance were available, the toxicity was highest for the most resistant lines.