Carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) has been studied extensively for its hepatotoxic effects. There is a paucity of information, however, about its tissue deposition following administration by different routes and patterns of exposure. The specific objective of this study was to delineate the uptake, distribution, and elimination of CCl4 in tissues of rats subjected to equivalent oral and inhalation exposures. Male Sprague-Dawley rats (325-375 g) were exposed to 1000 ppm CCl4 for 2 hr. The total absorbed dose (179 mg CCl4/kg bw) was administered to other groups of rats as a single oral bolus or by constant gastric infusion over a period of 2 hr. Animals were terminated at selected time intervals during and postexposure and tissues (liver, kidney, lung, brain, fat, skeletal muscle, spleen, heart, and GI tract) removed for measurement of their CCl4 content by headspace gas chromatography. CCl4 levels in all tissues were much lower in the gastric infusion group than in the oral bolus and inhalation groups. Inhalation resulted in relatively high tissue CCl4 concentrations, because inhaled chemicals enter the arterial circulation and are transported directly to organs throughout the body. It seems logical that the liver should accumulate more CCl4 following ingestion than following inhalation. This did not prove to be the case when comparing liver AUC values for the gastric infusion and inhalation groups. Substantially lower CCl4 concentrations in the liver of animals in the gastric infusion group appeared to be due to very rapid metabolic clearance of the relatively small amounts of CCl4 entering the liver over the 2-hr infusion period. It was hypothesized that the capacity of first-pass hepatic and pulmonary elimination could be exceeded, if CCl4 were given as a single, large oral bolus. Indeed, deposition of CCl4 in all tissues was greater in the oral bolus group than in the gastric infusion group. The time courses of uptake and elimination of CCl4 appeared to be governed largely by a tissue's rate of blood perfusion and lipid content. CCl4 was rapidly taken up, for example, by the brain and liver. These organs' CCl4 content then diminished, as CCl4 was metabolized and redistributed to adipose tissue. CCl4 accumulated slowly, but to very high concentrations, in fat and remained elevated for a prolonged period. Thus, concentrations of CCl4 in some tissues may not be reflective of blood levels. The most appropriate measure of internal dose for CCl4 acute hepatotoxicity appears to be the area under tissue concentrations versus time curve from 0 to 30 min. Tissue time-course data sets are essential for the refinement and validation of physiological models for CCl4 and other volatile organic chemicals.