The neurotoxicity of beta-arteether (AE) is related to drug accumulation in blood due to slow and prolonged absorption from the intramuscular injection sites. In this efficacy and toxicity study of AE, the traditional sesame oil vehicle was replaced with cremophore to decrease the accumulation and toxicity of AE. Dihydroartemisinin (DQHS), a more toxic and active metabolite of AE, was also analyzed. When administered at a daily dosage of 25 mg/kg for seven days, blood accumulation of AE with sesame oil (AESO) was used had a 7.5-fold higher area under the curve (AUC) (on last versus first day dosing), while AE with cremophore (AECM) had only a 1.8-fold higher AUC. Although the accumulation of AECM was greatly reduced, its total exposure level (46.29 microg x h/ml) was 2.7-fold higher than with AESO (16.92 microg x h/ml) due to a higher bioavailability of AECM (74.5%) compared with AESO (20.3%). Total exposure time (calculated at over the minimal detected neurotoxicity level of 41.32 ng/ml) of AECM was 103 hours during the whole treatment period (192 hours), which was more than one-third (37%) less than with AESO (162 hours). Similar pharmacokinetic results were also shown with the active metabolite, DQHS. Anorexia and gastrointestinal toxicity with AESO were significantly more severe than with AECM (P < 0.001). Histopathologic examination of the brain demonstrated neurotoxic changes; the AESO rat group was significantly more severe than the AECM rat group. The brain injury scores with AECM were mild to moderate (2.3-3.0), and with AESO they were moderate to severe (3.0-4.7) on day 7 and day 10, respectively. In addition, the results of a 50% cure dose (CD50) against Plasmodium berghei in mice were 34.1 mg/kg for AESO and 14.2 mg/kg for AECM, indicating a significant higher efficacy was found in the AECM animals. Toxicity and efficacy of DQHS were also dependent on its exposure time and level, which was the same as its parent drug (AE). In conclusion, following the seven-day treatment in rats, AE and DQHS exposure time and level varied based on the vehicle used. The extension of drug exposure time and the low peak level of AE and DQHS were more associated with severe neurotoxicity and lower antimalarial efficacy, whereas the high level and short exposure time of AE and DQHS resulted in higher efficacy and milder toxicity.