After administration of the inorganic sodium arsenite or arsenate to rats, the biliary excretion of arsenic is rapid, is accompanied by the biliary output of large amounts of GSH, and is completely arrested by the GSH depletor diethyl maleate (DEM). We studied the biliary excretion of trimelarsan (TMA) and melarsoprol (MAP) in rats in order to determine whether biliary excretion is also significant in the disposition of these trivalent organic arsenicals that are used as therapeutic agents and whether GSH is also involved in their hepatobiliary transport. After injection of either drug (100 micromol/kg, i.v.), arsenic was rapidly excreted in bile (up to 1 micromol/kg. min, approximately 55% of dose/100 min). Concurrently, TMA and MAP increased the biliary output of GSH 3- and 6 fold, and lowered the hepatic GSH content by 24% and 27%, respectively. In TMA-injected rats, pretreatment with DEM or buthionine sulfoximine decreased the initial biliary excretion of arsenic by 75% and 40%, respectively, whereas in MAP-injected rats these GSH depletors diminished arsenic output by 45% and 20%. Both arsenicals reacted with GSH in vitro, giving rise to the same product, which was also shown by HPLC analysis to be a major biliary metabolite of both TMA and MAP. This metabolite was sensitive to gamma-glutamyltranspeptidase in vitro and its biliary excretion was virtually prevented by the GSH depletors, confirming that it is a GSH conjugate (purportedly melarsen-diglutathione). Some TMA was excreted in the bile unchanged, whereas a significant amount of MAP also appeared there as two glucuronides. The biliary excretion of unchanged TMA and MAP glucuronides was increased by experimental depletion of GSH. These studies indicate that the biliary excretion of TMA and MAP (1) is very significant in their disposition, (2) is partially dependent on the hepatic availability of GSH, as these arsenicals are excreted in part as a GSH conjugate, and (3) is concomitant with the increased appearance of GSH in bile, probably originating from dissociation of the unstable GSH conjugate of these arsenicals. Thus, conjugation with GSH is important in the elimination of both TMA and MAP, although glucuronidation is also involved in the fate of MAP.