The arsenic (+3 oxidation state) methyltransferase (As3mt) gene encodes a 43 kDa protein that catalyzes methylation of inorganic arsenic. Altered expression of AS3MT in cultured human cells controls arsenic methylation phenotypes, suggesting a critical role in arsenic metabolism. Because methylated arsenicals mediate some toxic or carcinogenic effects linked to inorganic arsenic exposure, studies of the fate and effects of arsenicals in mice which cannot methylate arsenic could be instructive. This study compared retention and distribution of arsenic in As3mt knockout mice and in wild-type C57BL/6 mice in which expression of the As3mt gene is normal. Male and female mice of either genotype received an oral dose of 0.5 mg of arsenic as arsenate per kg containing [(73)As]-arsenate. Mice were radioassayed for up to 96 h after dosing; tissues were collected at 2 and 24 h after dosing. At 2 and 24 h after dosing, livers of As3mt knockouts contained a greater proportion of inorganic and monomethylated arsenic than did livers of C57BL/6 mice. A similar predominance of inorganic and monomethylated arsenic was found in the urine of As3mt knockouts. At 24 h after dosing, As3mt knockouts retained significantly higher percentages of arsenic dose in liver, kidneys, urinary bladder, lungs, heart, and carcass than did C57BL/6 mice. Whole body clearance of [(73)As] in As3mt knockouts was substantially slower than in C57BL/6 mice. At 24 h after dosing, As3mt knockouts retained about 50% and C57BL/6 mice about 6% of the dose. After 96 h, As3mt knockouts retained about 20% and C57BL/6 mice retained less than 2% of the dose. These data confirm a central role for As3mt in the metabolism of inorganic arsenic and indicate that phenotypes for arsenic retention and distribution are markedly affected by the null genotype for arsenic methylation, indicating a close linkage between the metabolism and retention of arsenicals.