Neutrophils activated by soluble particulate stimuli generate superoxide anion and subsequently form hydrogen peroxide and other oxygen radicals. The effect of hydrogen peroxide on the complement system in normal serum was investigated. Treatment of normal serum with hydrogen peroxide resulted in a diminution of the haemolytic activity of the total and alternative complement pathways and the haemolytic titres of C3 and C5 but not of C2, in normal serum. These decreases in complement activity depended on the concentration of hydrogen peroxide added to the serum. Immunoelectrophoretic analysis of hydrogen peroxide-treated serum showed that C3 and C5 proteins were activated. Complement degradation products C3a and C5a were produced in normal serum treated with hydrogen peroxide, and 20 mM EDTA abolished C3a and C5a production in hydrogen peroxide-treated serum but 20 mM Mg-EGTA did not. Catalase completely abolished and dimethylsulphoxide and D-mannitol, hydroxyl radical scavengers, partially inhibited the hydrogen peroxide-mediated complement activation. Hypochlorite, incubated with normal serum, significantly inhibited serum haemolytic activity, and sodium thiosulphate, a reducing agent, abolished the effect of hypochlorite. Normal serum incubated with activated neutrophils showed neutrophil chemotactic activity and decreased serum haemolytic activity, and the addition of catalase or methionine (5 mM) completely abolished the effects of activated neutrophils. These results suggest that hydrogen peroxide activates complement via an alternative pathway of complement activation and that hydroxyl radicals and other hydrogen peroxide-related species such as hypochlorite are most likely involved in hydrogen peroxide-mediated complement activation. Complement activation by oxygen radicals produced by activated neutrophils may be one of the mechanisms by which complement is activated in human immune complex diseases.