We studied the effects of short-term submaximal exercise on the plasma levels of myeloperoxidase ([MPO]) and C5a anaphylatoxin ([C5a]), taken as specific markers of polymorphonuclear neutrophil (PMN) and complement activation, respectively. Eleven young, healthy male volunteers were subjected to a constant-load concentric exercise on a cycle ergometer (20 min at 80% maximal oxygen uptake). Mean resting MPO and C5a concentrations were 437 +/- 113 and 0.47 +/- 0.21 ng/ml, respectively. During exercise, [MPO] and [C5a] increased significantly (p < 0.001) towards respective peak values of 649 +/- 131 and 1.3 +/- 0.6 ng/ml. A rapid decrease of both [MPO] and [C5a] was observed during recovery. The similar time course of [MPO] and [C5a] changes and the highly significant relationship between these two variables (r = 0.651; p < 0.001) argues for the possible involvement of the complement anaphylatoxin C5a in the process of PMN degranulation. During exercise, the number of circulating PMN increased (+80%; p < 0.001) and remained practically unchanged up to 20 minutes of recovery. As [MPO] and PMN count were not significantly related (r = 0.2; p < 0.1), we concluded that the activation of PMN was independent of their mobilization.