The third component of complement (C3) is a plasma glycoprotein with a variety of biologic functions in the initiation and maintenance of host response to infectious agents. While the hepatocyte is the primary source of plasma C3, mononuclear phagocytes contribute to the regulation of tissue availability of C3. Lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a constituent of cell walls of gramnegative bacteria, consists of a polysaccaride moiety (core polysaccharide and O antigen) covalently linked to a lipid portion (lipid A). Using metabolic labeling with [35S]methionine, immunoprecipitation, and SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, we examined the effects of LPS on synthesis of C3 by human mononuclear phagocytes as well as synthesis of the second component (C2), factor B, lysozyme, and total protein. LPS increased C3 synthesis 5-30-fold without affecting the kinetics of secretion of C3 or the synthesis of C2, lysozyme, or total protein. Factor B synthesis was consistently increased by LPS. Experiments with lipid A-inactivated LPS (alkaline treated), LPS from a polysaccharide mutant strain, and lipid X (a lipid A precursor) indicated that the lipid A portion is the structural element required for this effect. Norhern blot analysis demonstrated at least a fivefold increase in C3 mRNA in LPS-treated monolayers, which suggests that the regulation of the increase in C3 synthesis is pretranslational. C2 mRNA and factor B mRNA were increased approximately twofold. The availability of specific gene products in human mononuclear phagocytes that respond to LPS should permit understanding of the molecular regulation of more complex functions of these cells elicited by LPS in which multiple gene products are coordinately expressed.