Complement split products C3a and C4a are reportedly elevated in patients with acute Lyme disease. We have now examined these immunologic markers in patients with chronic Lyme disease compared to appropriate disease controls. The study population consisted of 29 healthy controls, 445 patients with chronic Lyme disease, 11 patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and six patients with AIDS. The Lyme disease patients were divided according to predominant musculoskeletal symptoms (324 patients) or predominant neurologic symptoms (121 patients). C3a and C4a levels were measured by radioimmunoassay. All patients with chronic Lyme disease and AIDS had normal C3a levels compared to controls, whereas patients with SLE had significantly increased levels of this marker. Patients with predominant musculoskeletal symptoms of Lyme disease and AIDS patients had significantly increased levels of C4a compared to either controls, patients with predominant neurologic symptoms of Lyme disease or SLE patients. Response to antibiotic therapy in chronic Lyme disease was associated with a significant decrease in the C4a level, whereas lack of response was associated with a significant increase in this marker. In contrast, AIDS patients had persistently increased C4a levels despite antiretroviral therapy. Lyme patients with positive single-photon emission computed tomographic (SPECT) scans had significantly lower C4a levels compared to Lyme patients with normal SPECT scan results. Patients with predominant musculoskeletal symptoms of Lyme disease have normal C3a and increased C4a levels. This pattern differs from the increase in both markers seen in acute Lyme disease, and C4a changes correlate with the response to therapy in chronic Lyme disease. C4a appears to be a valuable immunologic marker in patients with persistent symptoms of Lyme disease.