Hepatic mRNA levels of the mouse major acute phase proteins serum amyloid P component (SAP) and serum amyloid A component (SAA) were monitored at timed intervals after i.p. injection of thioglycollate or s.c. injection of azocasein. Both mRNA increased dramatically in response to either inflammatory stimulus. The increase in SAA mRNA levels accompanied an abrupt change in mRNA size from 650 to 750 bases. Peak SAA mRNA concentrations were observed 18 h after either stimulus; by 72 h concentrations had returned to preinflammatory levels. Peak SAP mRNA concentrations were observed 8 h after thioglycollate and 12 to 18 h after azocasein injection; by 36 h concentrations were close to preinflammatory levels. All mRNA species studied (SAP, SAA and the complement components C3, C5 and factor B) were induced more rapidly by the thioglycollate stimulus and reached higher peak concentrations. SAP mRNA levels were correlated with other parameters of inflammation: infiltration of peritoneal exudate cells (PEC) into the peritoneum after thioglycollate injection, and serum concentrations of SAP after azocasein injection. Serum SAP concentrations rose 20-fold in response to the latter stimulus by 36 h, i.e., 18 to 24 h after the peak SAP mRNA levels. The highest numbers of PEC were present 24 h after the thioglycollate stimulus, i.e. 16 h after the maximum SAP mRNA concentration, indicating the continuation of an active local inflammation many hours after one aspect of the systemic response has ceased.