To evaluate further the interactions of C5a and mast cells in cutaneous inflammation, the ability of human native C5a (nC5a) (10 to 500 ng/ml) and human recombinant C5a (rC5a) (10 ng/ml to 100 ng/ml) to induce histamine release from purified BALB/c cutaneous mast cells (CMC) and peritoneal mast cells (PMC) was analyzed. It was found that nC5a induced histamine release from CMC but not from PMC, with a maximal net release at 250 ng/ml nC5a (22.8 +/- 2.6%). Kinetic experiments demonstrated that nC5a-induced maximal net histamine release occurred 5 min after the presentation of this stimulus (25.8 +/- 6.0%). Using rC5a and CMC, dose-response studies indicated a maximal net release of 7.0 +/- 1.7% at rC5a of 10 ng/ml, and kinetic studies showed a maximal net release at 5 min of incubation (12.9 +/- 1.6%). Release induced by rC5a was calcium-dependent, and peaked at 30 degrees C. These results indicate that functional heterogeneity exists between the CMC and the PMC of BALB/c mice, that C5a is a relevant stimulus for characterization of this heterogeneity, and that CMC from these animals can serve as a convenient in vitro model for the study of human C5a-mast cell interactions. In vivo, injections of nC5a (25-100 ng) and rC5a (25-100 ng) into the skin of BALB/c mice induced an increase in cutaneous vasopermeability, as assessed by the extravasation of intravenously injected 125I-bovine serum albumin. nC5a induced a dose-dependent increase in vasopermeability, whereas alterations induced by rC5a plateaued at 50 ng. The C5a-induced vasopermeability was markedly enhanced in animals that had been previously treated with an inhibitor of serum carboxypeptidase, which converts C5a to the less potent derivative, C5a des Arg. These findings suggest that carboxypeptidase plays an important role in vivo in the modulation of C5a-induced cutaneous inflammation in murine skin.