The ability of the phospholipases A(2) (PLA(2)s) from Crotalus durissus cascavella, Crotalus durissus collilineatus and Crotalus durissus terrificus venoms and crotapotin to increase the vascular permeability in the rat skin as well as the contribution of both mast cells and sensory C-fibers have been investigated in this study. Vascular permeability was measured as the plasma extravascular accumulation at skin sites of intravenously injected 125I-human serum albumin. Intradermal injection of crotalic PLA(2)s (0.05-0.5 microg/site) in the rat skin resulted in dose-dependent increase in plasma extravascular whereas crotapotin (1 microg/site) failed to affect this response. Co-injection of crotapotin (1 microg/site) did not modify the increased vascular permeability induced by the PLA(2)s (0.05-0.5 microg/site). Previous treatment (30 min) of the animals with cyproheptadine (2 mg/kg, i.p.) markedly reduced PLA(2) (0.5 microg/site)-induced oedema. In rats treated neonatally with capsaicin to deplete neuropeptides, the plasma extravasation induced by all PLA(2)s (0.5 microg/site) was also significantly reduced. Similarly, the tachykinin NK(1) receptor antagonist SR140333 (1nmol/site) significantly reduced the PLA(2)-induced oedema. In addition, the combination of SR140333 with cyproheptadine further reduced the increased plasma extravasation by PLA(2) from C. d. cascavella venom, but not by PLA(2) from C. d. terrificus and C. d. collilineatus venoms. Our results suggest that increase in skin vascular permeability by crotalic PLA(2)s is mediated by activation of sensory C-fibers culminating in the release of substance P, as well as by activation of mast cells which in turn release amines such as histamine and serotonin.