A variable loss of macromolecules during peritoneal dialysis has been noted in both humans and experimental animals. We investigated the potential role of the complement system for inducing protein loss during peritoneal dialysis, both to shed light on clinical variability of protein loss and to develop a model for quantitatively studying complement-induced microvascular protein leakage. Rats received intra-arterial injections of a fluorescent dye conjugated to rat serum albumin and underwent a 3.5-hr series of 15-min peritoneal dialysis exchanges. After the control exchanges, rats received either intra-arterial zymosan-activated rat serum, saline, unactivated rat serum, or endotoxin; other rats received an intraperitoneal injection of endotoxin, histamine, phenylephrine, or nitroprusside. The drainage volume from each exchange was measured, and the concentrations of labeled albumin, total protein, and urea were determined by spectroscopy. Zymosan-activated rat serum and endotoxin injections (both intraperitoneal and intraarterial), each of which may activate the alternative pathway of complement, produced a dramatic increase in dialysate protein concentrations. In addition, histamine, which is a vasodilator but which may also be involved as a mediator of the activated complement system and/or endotoxemia, also produced an increase in dialysate protein concentrations. On the other hand, drugs which may alter peritoneal blood flow such as the vasodilator nitroprusside or the vasoconstrictor phenylephrine, did not affect dialysate protein concentrations. These data suggest that activation of the alternative pathway of complement may cause variation in protein loss during peritoneal dialysis and that in some situations, pharmacological control of this system could be an important therapeutic consideration.