Primary microglial cultures prepared from newborn mice showed the production and release of the third component of complement (C3). Newly synthesized [35S]methionine-labelled C3 was purified by immunoprecipitation using anti-C3-antibody. C3 was detected by SDS-PAGE and fluoroaraphy of the immunoprecipitated protein from cell lysates as a 195 kDa band, and from the supernatants of cultures as two major bands corresponding to the C3 alpha-chain (125 kDa) and beta-chain (75 kDa), consistent with known C3 characteristics. Increased biosynthesis of C3 was elicited by endotoxin lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Further, the synthesis of C3 was increased 5-10-fold in response to various synthetic peptides corresponding to the amyloid beta/A4 protein, which is the main constituent of extracellular amyloid deposits in Alzheimer's disease (AD). The increased synthesis of C3 was shown to be dose dependent at concentrations of beta/A4 peptide ranging from 10 micrograms/ml to 50 micrograms/ml. These results suggest that complement components found previously in amyloid deposits may be partly derived from reactive microglia preferentially associated with senile plaques in AD brain.