The mechanism by which human C5a anaphylatoxin augments the primary humoral response of murine splenocytes to antigen has been investigated. Culture supernatants were generated from splenic adherent cells or macrophage cell lines after exposure to a brief pulse of human C5a. Supernatants from the macrophage-like cell line P388D1, which bears surface receptors for C5a, enhance the PFC response to antigen, whereas those from the closely related cell line P388, which lacks surface receptors for C5a, fail to cause enhancement. Supernatants from splenic adherent cells, which also bear C5a receptors, similarly augment the SRBC response. Active supernatants, but not those devoid of activity, were shown to contain interleukin 1 (IL-1) activity by both the thymocyte mitogenesis and thymocyte costimulator assays. None of the supernatants contained IL-2 activity. These observations suggest that the recently described role of human C5a as an immunopotentiating modulator is mediated by its ability to induce production of IL-1 upon binding to specific receptors at the macrophage cell surface.