The G-protein coupled receptor (C3aR) for human inflammatory protein complement C3a is an important component of immune, inflammatory, and metabolic diseases. A flexible compound (N2-[(2,2-diphenylethoxy)acetyl]-l-arginine, 4), known as a weak C3aR antagonist (IC50 μM), was transformed here into potent agonists (EC50 nM) of human macrophages (Ca(2+) release in HMDM) by incorporating aromatic heterocycles. Antagonists were also identified. A linear correlation between binding affinity for C3aR and calculated hydrogen-bond interaction energy of the heteroatom indicated that its hydrogen-bonding capacity influenced ligand affinity and function mediated by C3aR. Hydrogen-bond accepting heterocycles (e.g., imidazole) conferred the highest affinity and agonist potency (e.g., 21, EC50 24 nM, Ca(2+), HMDM) with comparable efficacy and immunostimulatory activity as that of C3a in activating human macrophages (Ca(2+), IL1β, TNFα, CCL3). These potent and selective modulators of C3aR, inactivated by a C3aR antagonist, are stable C3a surrogates for interrogating roles for C3aR in physiology and disease.