Transcription factor Nrf2 induces a number of detoxifying enzymes and antioxidant proteins to confer protection against the toxic effects of a diverse range of chemicals including inorganic arsenicals. Although a number of studies using cultured cells have demonstrated that Nrf2 has a cell-protective function against acute and high-dose arsenic toxicity, there is no clear in vivo evidence of this effect. In the present study, we genetically investigated the protective role of Nrf2 against acute sodium arsenite toxicity using the zebrafish Nrf2 mutant, nrf2afh318. After treatment with 1 mM sodium arsenite, the survival of nrf2afh318 larvae was significantly shorter than that of wild-type siblings, suggesting that Nrf2 protected the zebrafish larvae against high-dose arsenite exposure. To understand the molecular basis of the Nrf2-dependent protection, we analyzed the gene expression profiles after arsenite exposure, and found that the genes involved in the antioxidative function (prdx1 and gclc), arsenic metabolism (gstp1) and xenobiotic elimination (abcc2) were induced in an Nrf2-dependent manner. Furthermore, pre-treatment with sulforaphane, a well-known Nrf2 activator improved the survival of zebrafish larvae after arsenic exposure. Based on these results, we concluded that Nrf2 plays a fundamental and conserved role in protection against acute sodium arsenite toxicity.