The aim of this study was to investigate the role of P-selectin in the accumulation of neutrophils in the direct passive Arthus reaction in rat skin. Direct passive Arthus dermal reaction was induced in male Sprague-Dawley (SD) rats by a single i.v. injection of rat anti-sheep globulin (SG) 1 h before i.d. injection of SG antigen. Anti-P-selectin or irrelevant control antibody was given 1 h before rat anti-SG injection. Complement depletion was also performed in a separate group by pretreatment with cobra venom factor (CVF). In all groups dermal swelling was assessed 4 h after antigen challenge. Four hours after antigen challenge, rats treated with control antibody developed skin swelling (2.29 +/- 0.47 mm), prominent complement deposition and neutrophil accumulation. This response was associated with local up-regulation of endothelial P-selectin. Pre-treatment with anti-P-selectin antibody 1 h before passive Arthus induction prevented skin swelling (0.29 +/- 0.06 mm, P < 0.05, cf with control antibody treatment), neutrophil accumulation and up-regulation of endothelial P-selectin despite complement deposition. CVF treatment prevented complement deposition, neutrophil accumulation and skin swelling (0.13 +/- 0.07 mm, P < 0.05, cf with saline treatment). However, endothelial P-selectin expression was still present. Inhibition of skin swelling and neutrophil accumulation in direct passive Arthus by functional inhibition of P-selectin suggest a pivotal role for this adhesion molecule in this inflammatory process. These results also suggest that multiple steps are involved in the evolution of direct passive Arthus, including both P-selectin expression and complement activation. However, while complement activation is essential for neutrophil accumulation and expression of dermal injury, P-selectin up-regulation initiated by antibody/antigen deposition occurs independently of complement activation.