Methotrexate (MTX) dose-escalation studies were conducted in two inbred lines of FVB/N transgenic mice expressing distinct drug-resistant dihydrofolate reductases (DHFRs) and in animals transplanted with transgenic marrow. Survival of animals expressing a tryptophan-31 variant DHFR transgene was only slightly improved over that of normal animals, and survival of tryptophan-31 variant DHFR marrow transplant recipients was indistinguishable from that of normal animals (at a MTX dose of 4 mg/kg i.p. daily). In contrast, extended survival was observed for animals expressing an arginine-22 variant (Arg22) DHFR transgene, with the last three of eight animals in this group succumbing at a final MTX dose of 14 mg/kg i.p. daily. Survival was slightly reduced for normal animals transplanted with Arg22 marrow. Interestingly, demise of animals in both Arg22 groups was not associated with the profound drop in hematocrit levels usually observed in MTX-treated animals. These animals were instead characterized by severe atrophy of the gastrointestinal tract, whereas hematocrit levels and marrow histology were relatively normal. Kidney pathology (mesangiocapillary glomerulopathy) was also observed in Arg22 marrow recipients but not in Arg22 transgenics, consistent with expression of the drug-resistance gene in kidney tissues of the transgenics, as demonstrated by ribonuclease protection analysis. Immediate dose-response studies in Arg22 marrow transplant recipients defined a maximum tolerated dose of 4 mg/kg/day MTX, 2 to 3 times that of animals transplanted with normal marrow or of normal untransplanted animals. These results define the extent of chemoprotection afforded by drug-resistant DHFR expression and serve to identify alternate sites of toxicity in animals administered the higher levels of MTX afforded by drug-resistant DHFR expression in the marrow.