Clinical and experimental observations suggest that aggregation of polymorphonuclear granulocytes (PMN) in response to activated complement (C) might contribute to the genesis of the adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), aggregating PMN causing pulmonary dysfunction by becoming lodged in the lung as leucoemboli. PMN-aggregating activity can be detected in C-activated plasma and reflects C5a levels. In 61 patients at risk for ARDS a strong and highly significant correlation was found between the presence of PMN-aggregating activity in the plasma and the development of ARDS; this correlation was also significant when patients with sepsis were excluded from analysis. In patients followed prospectively detection of elevated C5a seemed to be a useful predictor of ARDS. Since corticosteroids have been shown to inhibit PMN aggregation both in vitro and in vivo, the evidence for a role for PMN aggregation in the genesis of ARDS supports the use of corticosteroids in this disorder.