The effects of injecting urokinase into subdermal air sacs on the back of mice was studied. Urokinase was leukotactic in the concentration range of 2 X 10(-13) to 2 X 10(-15) M. This response was absolutely dependent on the enzyme activity of the serine esterase, but was found to be independent of generation of the chemotactic complement split product C5a. At high doses of urokinase (greater than 2 X 10(-12) M), no cellular infiltration was observed. Injection of 2 X 10(-10) M urokinase i.p. led to the systemic desensitization of mice when challenged in the skin with a lower dose (2 X 10(-14) M) of urokinase. Urokinase desensitization did not alter the ability of mice to respond to the chemical chemotactic factor f-met-leu-phe or to respond to C5a-dependent chemotactic stimuli. Urokinase desensitized mice failed to demonstrate a chemotactic response to nerve growth factor, thrombin, plasmin, or factor X activating enzyme, all of which were chemotactic in non-urokinase pre-treated animals. The results of these studies indicate the presence of three physiologically independent inflammatory pathways in mice: independent of C5 and not influenced by pretreatment with urokinase, independent of C5 and inhibited by pretreatment with urokinase, and dependent on C5 and not influenced by pretreatment with urokinase.