We have studied the molecular basis of resistance of multiple human leukaemia CCRF-CEM sublines to the novel antifolates ZD9331, GW1843, AG2034, PT523 and edatrexate, which use the reduced folate carrier (RFC) as their main cellular uptake route and that target different folate-dependent enzymes. Antifolate-resistant sublines established by stepwise and single-step selections displayed up to 2135-fold resistance to the selection drug, and up to 2323-fold cross-resistance to various hydrophilic antifolates. In contrast, these sublines were up to 17- and 20-fold hypersensitive to the lipophilic antifolates AG377 and trimetrexate, respectively. The total reduced folate pool of these antifolate-resistant sublines shrunk by 87-96%, resulting in up to 42-fold increased folic acid growth requirement. These sublines lost 92-97% of parental [(3)H]methotrexate influx rates. Genomic PCR single-strand conformational polymorphism analysis and sequencing revealed that most of these drug-resistant sublines harboured RFC mutations that surprisingly clustered in two confined regions in exons 2 and 3. The majority of these mutations resulted in frame-shift and/or premature translation termination and lack of RFC protein expression. The remaining mutations involved single amino acid substitutions predominantly residing in the first transmembrane domain (TMD1). Some RFC-inactivating mutations emerged during the early stages of antifolate selection and were stably retained during further drug selection. Furthermore, some sublines displayed a markedly decreased or abolished RFC mRNA and/or protein expression. This constitutes the first demonstration of clustering of multiple human RFC mutations in TMD1, thereby suggesting that it plays a functional role in folate/antifolate binding and/or translocation. This is the first molecular characterization of human RFC-associated modalities of resistance to various novel antifolates in multiple leukaemia sublines.