Leishmaniasis is the most important emerging and uncontrolled infectious disease and the second cause of death among parasitic diseases, after Malaria. One of the main problems concerning the control of infectious diseases is the increased resistance to usual drugs. Overexpression of P-glycoprotein (Pgp)-like transporters represents a very efficient mechanism to reduce the intracellular accumulation of drugs in cancer cells and parasitic protozoans, thus conferring a multidrug resistance (MDR) phenotype. Pgps are active pumps belonging to the ATP-binding cassette (ABC) superfamily of proteins. The inhibition of the activity of these proteins represents an interesting way to control drug resistance both in cancer and in infectious diseases. Most conventional mammalian Pgp-MDR modulators are ineffective in the modulation of Pgp activity in the protozoan parasite Leishmania. Consequently, there is a necessity to find effective modulators of Pgp-MDR for protozoan parasites. In this review we describe a rational strategy developed to find specific Pgp-MDR modulators in Leishmania, using natural and semisynthetic dihydro-β-agarofuran sesquiterpenes from Celastraceae plants. A series of these compounds have been tested on a MDR Leishmania tropica line overexpressing a Pgp transporter to determine their ability to revert the resistance phenotype and to modulate intracellular drug accumulation. Almost all of these natural compounds showed potent reversal activity with different degrees of selectivity and a significant low toxicity. The three-dimensional quantitative structure-activity relationship using the comparative molecular similarity indices analysis (CoMSIA), was employed to characterize the requirements of these sesquiterpenes as modulators at Pgp-like transporter in Leishmania. © 2005 Bentham Science Publishers Ltd.