Although it is now appreciated that mast cell-mediated release of TNF-alpha is critical for resolution of acute septic peritonitis, questions remain as to how mast cells are activated upon peritoneal bacterial infection. Clues to how this may occur have been derived from earlier studies by Prodeus et al. in which complement proteins C3 and C4 were shown to be required for survival following cecal ligation and puncture (CLP), a model for acute septic peritonitis. To evaluate the mechanism for mast cell activation in the CLP model, complement receptor CD21/CD35-deficient mice (Cr2(null)) were examined in the present study. Along with CD19-deficient (CD19(null)) mice, these animals exhibit decreased survival following CLP compared with wild-type littermates. Injection of IgM before CLP does not change survival rates for Cr2(null) mice and only partially improves survival of CD19(null) mice, implicating CD21/CD35 and CD19 in mast cell activation. Interestingly, early TNF-alpha release is also impaired in Cr2(null) and CD19(null) animals, suggesting that these molecules directly affect mast cell activation. Cr2(null) and CD19(null) mice demonstrate an impairment in neutrophil recruitment and a corresponding increase in bacterial load. Examination of peritoneal mast cells by flow cytometry and confocal microscopy reveals the expression and colocalization of CD21/CD35 and CD19. Taken together, these findings suggest that the engagement of complement receptors CD21/CD35 along with CD19 on the mast cell surface by C3 fragments may be necessary for the full expression of mast cell activation in the CLP model.