The formation of N-arylacetohydroxamic acid derivatives from m-nitrosobenzyl alcohol (MBNO) and a nitroso derivative of chloramphenicol, 2,2-dichloro-N-[2-hydroxy-1-(hydroxymethyl)-2-(4-nitrosophenyl) ethyl]acetamide, in the presence of pyruvate was investigated with rat isolated cells (heart, kidney, liver, small intestine, lung, bone marrow and spermatozoa) and perfused organs (liver and heart). The activity in N-(m-hydroxymethylphenyl) acetohydroxamic acid (MBHA) formation was found in all the cells tested. Measurement of the kinetic parameters revealed that K(m) values of MBNO were ca. 0.3 mM and that the order of Vmax per cell was heart > kidney > liver > small intestine. In the hepatocytes, MBHA was metabolized further and the in vitro intrinsic clearance of MBHA was 1.91 +/- 0.24 ml/min/10(8) cells. In a single-pass perfusion of rat liver with MBNO, the corresponding amino, acetylamino and azoxy derivatives and unknown materials were formed in addition to MBHA. The activity in MBHA formation was increased by the addition of both diethyl maleate and paraoxon. In a recirculating perfusion of rat liver with MBNO, however, the net MBHA formation was hardly detected, because of the disposition of MBHA formed. The hepatic clearance of MBHA was 1.15 +/- 0.06 ml/min/g of liver. In a recirculating perfusion of isolated rat heart with MBNO, MBHA was formed as a major metabolite and further biotransformation was not found. The N-arylacetohydroxamic acid derivative of 2,2-dichloro-N-[2-hydroxy-1-(hydroxymethyl)-2-(4-nitrosophenyl) ethyl]acetamide was also formed in rat bone marrow cells and the isolated perfused heart. These results indicate that the formation of N-arylacetohydroxamic acids from nitroso aromatic compounds and pyruvate catalyzed by pyruvate dehydrogenase complex proceeds in virtually all mammalian tissues.