Subchronic 14-day exposure to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) suppressed serum total hemolytic complement activity (CH50) in female B6C3F1 mice at doses of 0.01, 0.05, 0.1, 0.5, 1.0, and 2.0 micrograms/kg. Serum levels of complement component C3 were also suppressed at doses of 0.5, 1.0, and 2.0 micrograms/kg. Another dioxin isomer, 1,2,3,6,7,8-hexachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (HCDD), also produced dose-dependent suppression of complement activity at doses of 0.1, 1.0, and 10 micrograms/kg with decreased C3 levels at 10 micrograms/kg. Both TCDD and HCDD enhanced susceptibility to Streptococcus pneumoniae, a bacterial pathogen whose host defense is complement mediated. Recovery studies demonstrated that complement activity in TCDD (1 microgram/kg) and HCDD (10 micrograms/kg)-treated animals was suppressed until 50 days post-treatment, while low doses of HCDD (0.1 and 1.0 micrograms/kg) elevated CH50 levels. Acute exposure to TCDD (14 micrograms/kg) also suppressed complement CH50 and C3 levels. These studies demonstrate that the complement system and innate immunity represent potential target sites for polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins.