C5a is an 11,000-Da complement-derived inflammatory glycoprotein that has been shown to mediate inflammatory reactions in vitro as well as in vivo in human skin. The C5a degradation product, C5a des Arg, is rapidly formed after exposure of C5a to serum carboxypeptidase N and may represent the relevant C5-derived inflammatory peptide in vivo. To examine the biologic activity of human C5a des Arg in vivo and to compare it with that seen with human C5a, we purified and characterized homogeneous preparations of human C5a and C5a des Arg and injected them intradermally into seven normal volunteers. C5a des Arg exhibited biochemical and biologic properties in vitro that were different from those of C5a. When injected into human skin, C5a des Arg was less potent than C5a, in respect to both minimal dose eliciting wheal and flare reactions and maximal wheal and flare elicited at a given dose, but C5a des Arg still elicited cutaneous wheal and flare reactions at physiologically relevant concentrations. Histologically, C5a des Arg skin test sites showed dense polymorphonuclear neutrophil-rich infiltrates associated with leukocytoclasis, dermal mast cell degranulation, and endothelial cell swelling. These were virtually indistinguishable from reactions elicited by C5a and occurred with concentrations attainable in vivo. Cutaneous wheal and flare reactions elicited by either C5a or C5a des Arg were partially inhibited by H1 antihistamines but were unaffected by selected nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents.