Administration of endotoxin from gram-negative bacteria to rats results in systemic hypotension, an increased hematocrit, and decreased numbers of circulating leukocytes (polymorphonuclear), monocytes, and platelets. These potentially lethal physiologic changes may be partially attributed to complement activation and generation of anaphylatoxins by the endotoxin (LPS). We demonstrated an elevation in the plasma levels of both C3a and C5a in LPS-treated rats. Injection of 5 micrograms C5ades Arg (rat) into rats produced effects similar to those induced by LPS, including decreased mean arterial pressure (systemic hypotension) and decreased numbers of circulating polymorphonuclear leukocytes, monocytes, and platelets. Unlike the response to LPS, C5a did not increase the hematocrit, indicating little effect on vascular permeability at the doses used. When LPS-treated animals were pretreated with F(ab')2 fragments of rabbit anti-rat C5a, no changes were measured in the circulating cell counts compared with LPS alone; however a significant improvement in the mean arterial pressure and a decrease in hematocrit was observed. We conclude that LPS-induced (septic) shock in the rat may result, in part, from the effects of complement activation and particularly from the generation of C5a. The influence of C5a on the LPS effect in the rat appears to enhance both the hypotensive (mean arterial pressure) and vascular permeability (hematocrit) responses. These results appear to support and confirm earlier observations that anti-human C5a increased survival in a septic-shock monkey model by eliminating circulating C5a and presumably thereby reducing the effects of endotoxin on blood pressure. Our results demonstrate that C5a plays a significant role in the hemodynamic changes associated with endotoxin-induced shock. Neutralization of C5a with specific antibodies may reduce the hypotensive response to endotoxin sufficiently to prevent lethal septic shock both in animals and in man.