We describe here a model for the study of blood/surface and blood/air interaction as encountered in cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) circuits. Polyethylene tubing was filled with serum or blood and closed end to end into loops whereby the volume of the remaining air bubble was inversely varied with respect to that of the fluid. The loops were rotated vertically in a water bath at 37 degrees C. The profiles of C3a, iC3, and TCC generation were similar to those observed at surgery, involving CPB. Soluble heparin and heparan sulfate inhibited both C3a and TCC formation, but surface-conjugated heparin had only a minor effect. Binding of C3 and/or C3 fragments to the heparin surface was much reduced compared to the amine matrix to which heparin was linked, but compared with the polyethylene surface the effect was less pronounced. These data suggest that, in addition to the biomaterial surface, the blood-gas interface seems to play an important role in the activation of complement and that this activation is inhibitable by high concentrations of soluble glucose aminoglycans.