Complement fragment (C)5a is a 74 residue pro-inflammatory polypeptide produced during activation of the complement cascade of serum proteins in response to foreign surfaces such as microorganisms and tissue damaged by physical or chemical injury. C5a binds to at least two seven-transmembrane domain receptors, C5aR (C5R1, CD88) and C5L2 (gpr77), expressed ubiquitously on a wide variety of cells but particularly on the surface of immune cells like macrophages, neutrophils and T cells. C5aR is a classical G protein-coupled receptor that signals through Gαi and Gα16, whereas C5L2 does not appear to couple to G proteins and has no known signalling activity. Although C5a was first described as an anaphylatoxin and later as a leukocyte chemoattractant, the widespread expression of C5aR suggested more general functionality. Our understanding of the physiology of C5a has improved significantly in recent years through exploitation of receptor knockout and knockin mice, C5 and C5a antibodies, soluble recombinant C5a and C5a analogues and newly developed receptor antagonists. C5a is now also implicated in non-immunological functions associated with developmental biology, CNS development and neurodegeneration, tissue regeneration, and haematopoiesis. Combined receptor mutagenesis, molecular modelling, structure-activity relationship studies and species dependence for ligand potency on C5aR have been helpful for identifying ligand binding sites on the receptor and for defining mechanisms of receptor activation and inactivation. This review will highlight major developments in C5a receptor research that support C5aR as an important therapeutic target. The intriguing possibilities raised by the existence of a non-signalling C5a receptor are also discussed.
British Journal of Pharmacology (2007) 152, 429–448; doi:10.1038/sj.bjp.0707332; published online 2 July 2007