Contamination of aquatic environments by arsenic is a serious worldwide problem. The main objective of this work was to evaluate the response of a freshwater clam (Corbicula fluminea) to arsenic (As 111) exposure and infer its potential as a biological indicator of contamination. Metallothioneins (MTs) were used as indicators of metalloid toxicity in combination with an histological and histochemical evaluation. After a period of acclimatization in the laboratory, 50 C. fluminea (0.4 g +/- 0.1) were exposed to different nominal concentrations of arsenic (100, 300, 500, and 1000 mu g L(-1)) for 7 days. The concentration of total As III in the water and in the tissues of the organisms was determined by atomic absorption spectrometry, and MTs were quantified through differential pulse polarography. Results suggest that the organisms exposed to the concentrations of 300 and 1000 mu g As L(-1) accumulated the highest levels of As III in the tissues (17 +/- 9 and 15 +/- 3 pg g(-1) distilled water, respectively), which was confirmed through histochemical analysis. An apparent induction of MTs was also observed in the organisms exposed to As III, suggesting that C. fluminea possesses some capacity for arsenic regulation. The results suggest that the induction of MTs may be of high interest as a biomarker for arsenic contamination in aquatic environments, and confirms the potential of C. fluminea as a biological indicator.