Rat Kupffer cells (KC), hepatic stellate cells (HSC) and sinusoidal endothelial cells (SEC) all express the C5a receptor (C5aR) constitutively in contrast to hepatocytes (HC). HSC showed an unexpectedly high level of expression of the C5aR. As these cells are known to play a key role in the induction of liver fibrosis we hypothesized that C5a may possibly induce fibrogenetic proteins in these cells. HSC are known to express the extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins collagen IV, fibronectin, entactin and the structure protein smooth muscle actin (SMA) which is regarded as a marker for the fibrotic conversion of HSC to myofibroblast-like cells. We investigated the effect of recombinant rat C5a (rrC5a) on the upregulation of these ECM-proteins and of SMA, all of which are known to be expressed by HSC. The profibrotic cytokine TGF-beta1 (2 ng/ml), which was used as a control, clearly upregulated the three matrix proteins but not SMA. In the absence of any stimulus HSC upregulated the three ECM-proteins as well as SMA during their conversion into myofibroblast-like cells. This resulted in a high stimulus-independent plateau of the mRNA expressions for all four proteins after four to five days of culture. Readouts were therefore taken at 72 h after the isolation of the HSC when the investigated mRNA levels had not yet reached their maxima due to the conversion of the cells. The first 24 h of culture were performed without stimulus and the following 48 h in the presence of 100 nM rrC5a (1 micro g/ml) or TGF-beta1 (2 ng/ml). Only fibronectin-specific mRNA was clearly upregulated by C5a whereas entactin, collagen IV and SMA were not affected by C5a. By competitive-quantitative PCR the upregulation of fibronectin-specific mRNA was determined to be about five-fold. As TGF-beta1 upregulated all of the three investigated ECM-proteins but not SMA it was checked as to whether C5a might act indirectly by upregulating the expression of TGF-beta1 in KC and HSC, as both cell types are known to be sources of this profibrotic cytokine. However, using RT-PCR, such an effect was not detectable in either cell type after 3, 10 or 24 h.