BACKGROUND: C5a has been implicated in numerous pathophysiological conditions, including ischemia/reperfusion (I/R) injury of the kidney. We examined whether a novel and specific C5a receptor antagonist, the cyclic compound AcF-[OPdChaWR] could moderate I/R-induced renal injury in rats. METHODS: Female Wistar rats were subjected to renal ischemia (60 min) and reperfusion (5 h). Rats were treated with either 1 mg/kg IV in 5% ethanol/saline or 10 mg/kg PO in 25% ethanol/saline prior to ischemia. I/R injury was characterized by significant tissue hemorrhage with increased microvascular permeability, elevated renal tissue levels of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) and myeloperoxidase (MPO), increased serum levels of creatinine and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and hematuria. RESULTS: Pre-ischemic treatment with the C5a receptor (C5aR) antagonist (1 mg/kg IV or 10 mg/kg PO) substantially inhibited or prevented I/R-induced hematuria, vascular leakage, tissue levels of TNF-alpha and MPO, and serum levels of AST and creatinine. Histological examination of kidneys from antagonist pretreated I/R animals showed a marked reduction in tissue damage compared to drug-free I/R rats. This antagonist, however, did not inhibit complement-mediated lysis of red blood cells, suggesting unimpaired formation of the membrane attack complex (MAC). CONCLUSIONS: The results demonstrate for the first time that a selective antagonist of both human and rat C5a receptors, given either intravenously or orally, significantly protects the kidney from I/R injury in the rat. We conclude that C5a is an important pathogenic agent in renal I/R injury, and that C5a receptor antagonists may be useful therapeutic agents for the pretreatment of anticipated renal reperfusion injury in humans.