We examined responses of human peripheral blood polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN) and monocytes to the highly purified human complement-derived peptides C5a and C5a des Arg. As reported previously, C5a proved to be approximately 10- to 20-fold more potent than C5a des Arg as a chemoattractant for human PMN. C5a also was more potent than C5a des Arg in causing PMN to acquire a polarized morphology. In contrast, we found that human monocytes do not distinguish between C5a and C5a des Arg when these peptides are used as chemoattractants. In two different assay systems, both peptides acted at identical concentrations to stimulate suboptimal and optimal migration of monocytes. Human monocytes also did not distinguish between C5a and C5a des Arg when these peptides were used as inducers of polarization. Studies performed with functionally active, [125I]-labeled C5a and C5a des Arg, however, demonstrated that binding of C5a des Arg to monocytes differed from binding of C5a. Although [125I]-C5a des Arg appeared to bind to the same receptor as [125I]-C5a, binding of labeled C5a des Arg occurred with an affinity that was approximately 100-fold less than that observed with labeled C5a. These results indicate that leukocyte chemotactic and polarization responses to C5a and C5a des Arg vary, depending on the target cell type.