Hyperacute rejection is the inevitable consequence of the transplantation of vascularized organs between phylogenetically distant species. The nature of the incompatibility and the pathogenetic mechanisms that lead to hyperacute xenograft rejection are incompletely understood. We investigated these issues by the immunopathological analysis of tissues from swine renal and cardiac xenografts placed in rhesus monkeys. Hyperacute rejection was associated with deposition of recipient IgM and classic but not alternative complement pathway components along endothelial surfaces, the formation of platelet and fibrin thrombi, and the infiltration of neutrophils. In animals from which natural antibody was temporarily depleted by organ perfusion, rejection was observed at 3 days to 5 days posttransplant. The immunopathology of rejection in these tissues revealed focal vascular changes similar to those observed in hyperacute rejection. A xenograft functioning for a prolonged period in a recipient temporarily depleted of circulating natural antibody contained recipient IgM along endothelial surfaces but no evidence for significant deposition of complement, formation of platelet and fibrin thrombi, or infiltration of neutrophils. These results suggest that rhesus IgM contributes significantly to the development of hyperacute rejection in the swine to Rhesus model and that the fixation of complement is a critical factor in the recruitment of the coagulation cascade and platelet aggregation--and possibly in the adherence and infiltration of PMN.