The binding domain of the human C5a receptor consists of two distinct and physically separable subsites. One of these sites binds the C-terminal 8 amino acids of C5a and is as yet undefined, while the second site lies in the N terminus of the receptor and interacts with the core of C5a. Two deletion mutants were prepared to probe the importance of this second site. Removal of residues 2-22 decreased the binding affinity for C5a by 600-fold, while extending the deletion through residue 30 caused a further 75-fold decrease. Thus, the N terminus is responsible for at least 45% of the total energy for the binding of C5a. The five aspartic acids present in the deleted segments appear to be critical residues, as their conversion to alanines accounts for most of the affinity lost in the two truncations. Despite its importance for binding, the N terminus is not necessary for signal transduction, as a C-terminal peptide analog of C5a was able to stimulate G protein activation and to generate a Ca2+ flux through a receptor lacking residues 2-22. However, intact C5a was a very poor activator of this truncated receptor. These results imply that interaction between the N terminus of the receptor and C5a produces a conformational change in C5a that allows it's C terminus to properly interact with and activate the receptor.