Synthetic peptides that correspond to the COOH-terminal portion of C2b enhance vascular permeability in human and guinea pig skin. In human studies, 1 nmol of the most active peptide of 25-amino acid residues produced substantial local edema. A pentapeptide and a heptapeptide corresponding to the COOH-terminal sequence of C2b each induced contraction of estrous rat uterus in the micromole range; a peptide of 25 amino acids from this region induced a like contraction of rat uterus at a concentration 20-fold lower than the smaller peptides. The vascular permeability of guinea pig skin was enhanced by doses of these synthetic peptides in a similar fashion as that observed for the concentration of rat uterus. The induction of localized edema by intradermal injection in both the guinea pig and the human proceeds in the presence of antihistaminic drugs, suggesting that there is a histamine-independent component to the observed increase in vascular permeability. Cleavage of C2 with the enzymic subcomponent of C1, C1s, yields only C2a and C2b, and no small peptides, whereas cleavage of C2 with C1s and plasmin yields a set of small peptides. These plasmin-cleaved peptides are derived from the COOH terminus of C2b, and they induce the contraction of estrous rat uterus.