We studied the effect of human interstitial collagen types I, II, and III on serum-free cultured mouse macrophages and on the complement classical and alternative pathways in human and guinea-pig serum. Type II collagen produced a dose-dependent consumption and conversion of C3 and factor B both in the homologous and in the heterologous system. This effect on the alternative pathway was reproduced in genetically C4-deficient guinea-pig serum and could be triggered by native, triple helical type II molecules, by their component alpha chains, and the CNBr peptide mixture. Addition of type II collagen to the mouse macrophage cultures induced not only a dose- and time-dependent secretion of lysosomal enzymes, but also the generation of a supernatant factor cytotoxic for mouse mastocytoma P 815 cells. Collagen of types I and III were conspicuously less active or inactive in all assays. The studies demonstrate properties of the collagen specific for cartilage which, on a molecular level, suggest its direct, local participation in the production and perpetuation of rheumatoid arthritis.