The mannan-binding lectin (MBL) pathway of complement activation is important in host defence against pathogens and possibly against cancer. We investigated the effect of major surgery on two central components of the MBL pathway; MBL and the MBL-associated serine protease MASP-2, and for comparison also measured the interleukin (IL)-6 and C-reactive protein (CRP) levels. Serial blood samples were obtained from patients belonging to two different cohorts. Cohort 1 comprised 60 patients undergoing open or laparoscopic colectomy for benign disease (n = 12) or colon cancer (n = 48). Cohort 2 comprised 27 patients undergoing elective, open surgery for colorectal cancer, and was included in order to cover blood sampling between days 2 and 6. As expected, the surgical stress induced a marked acute phase response, as evidenced by a large increase in IL-6 (18-fold) and CRP (13-fold) levels with maximum at 12 h and 2 days, respectively. However, in both cohorts the levels of MBL and MBL-associated serine protease 2 (MASP-2) were largely unaffected, except for a minor but significant increase around day 8 in cohort 1. The preoperative levels of IL-6 and CRP were correlated significantly in both cohorts (r= 0·71, P < 0·0001 and r = 0·65, P = 0·005, respectively). Preoperative MASP-2 correlated with preoperative CRP (r= 0·59, P = 0·001) and IL-6 (r= 0·55, P = 0·02) in cohort 2 only. In contrast to the marked effects on the levels of IL-6 and CRP, the surgery influenced only marginally the two proteins of the MBL pathway.