The potency of complement factor H (H) in accelerating the decay of the alternative pathway C3 convertase, C3b,Bb (decay-accelerating activity), was used as a measure of the affinity of native versus trypsin-treated H for the complement protein C3b bound to surfaces. When about 99% of H was cleaved at the primary tryptic cleavage site 34 kDa from the N-terminus, its decay-accelerating activity on C3b,Bb on sheep erythrocytes fell about 60-fold, whereas the trypsin-treated H was only 3-4 times less potent than native H in dissociating C3b,Bb on Sepharose 4B. The residual decay-accelerating activity, remaining after the primary cleavage, was not affected by secondary cleavage at a site 120 kDa from the N-terminus, as shown with H preparations cleaved to different degrees. Because cell surface sialic acid is known to be responsible for the high affinity of H for C3b bound on sheep erythrocytes, the results strongly suggest that the integrity of the primary tryptic cleavage site of H is essential for the recognition of sialic acid-containing surfaces by the C3b-H complex.

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