Complement activation and anaphylatoxin formation were studied in 27 septic patients. The patients were treated with antibiotics and high-dose corticosteroids. Blood samples were drawn on admission and every week thereafter. Plasma levels of complement components C1INH, C3, C4, and C5 were low before the start of treatment but were above normal one week later in both successfully and unsuccessfully treated patients. In contrast, plasma levels of anaphylatoxins C3a/C3adesArg and C5a/C5adesArg were elevated on admission. After successful treatment, plasma levels of C3a/C3adesArg and C5a/C5adesArg returned to normal within one week. Nine patients had ongoing sepsis one week after the start of treatment and a persistent rise in anaphylatoxin concentration. They developed multisystem organ failure with respiratory, hepatic, and renal insufficiency. In vitro studies of Escherichia coli incubation in fresh serum indicated a dose-related formation of C3a/C3adesArg and C5a/C5adesArg. High concentrations of methylprednisolone inhibited the anaphylatoxin formation in vitro.