INTRODUCTION: Septic encephalopathy secondary to a breakdown of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) is a known complication of sepsis. However, its pathophysiology remains unclear. The present study investigated the effect of complement C5a blockade in preventing BBB damage and pituitary dysfunction during experimental sepsis. METHODS: Using the standardised caecal ligation and puncture (CLP) model, Sprague-Dawley rats were treated with either neutralising anti-C5a antibody or pre-immune immunoglobulin (Ig) G as a placebo. Sham-operated animals served as internal controls. RESULTS: Placebo-treated septic rats showed severe BBB dysfunction within 24 hours, accompanied by a significant upregulation of pituitary C5a receptor and pro-inflammatory cytokine expression, although gene levels of growth hormone were significantly attenuated. The pathophysiological changes in placebo-treated septic rats were restored by administration of neutralising anti-C5a antibody to the normal levels of BBB and pituitary function seen in the sham-operated group. CONCLUSIONS: Collectively, the neutralisation of C5a greatly ameliorated pathophysiological changes associated with septic encephalopathy, implying a further rationale for the concept of pharmacological C5a inhibition in sepsis.