The emergence of phenotypic resistance to ciprofloxacin and levofloxacin in methicillin-sensitive and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) strains was studied. Twenty MRSA and 77 methicillin-sensitive S.aureus (MSSA) strains susceptible to both quinolones were investigated for resistance after single step or serial passages. No growth of 20 MRSA strains was observed at 4 x MIC of levofloxacin after 48 h incubation, but 4 of 77 (5%) MSSA strains grew at the same concentration. At 4 x MIC concentration of ciprofloxacin, 10 MSSA (13%) and five MRSA (25%) strains were grown. In the serial passages of MRSA strains, resistance to ciprofloxacin was 75 and 5% for levofloxacin by the third passage. In the seventh passage this resistance was 100 and 15%, respectively. In MSSA strains, resistance to ciprofloxacin was 75 and 19% to levofloxacin at the third passage and at the seventh passage, 100 and 61%, respectively. Emergence of ciprofloxacin resistance was more common and developed more rapidly than resistance to levofloxacin in both MRSA and MSSA strains. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. and the International Society of Chemotherapy. All rights reserved.