The binding of human complement component C4 to antibody-antigen aggregates and the nature of the interaction have been investigated. When antibody-antigen aggregates with optimal C1 bound are incubated with C4, the C4 is rapidly cleaved to C4b, but only a small fraction (1-2%) is bound to the aggregates, the rest remaining in the fluid phase as inactive C4b. It has been found that C4b and th antibody form a very stable complex, due probably to the formation of a covalent bond. On reduction of the C4b-immunoglobulin G (IgG) complex, the beta and gamma chains, but not the alpha' chain, of C4b are released together with all the light chain, but only about half of the heavy chain of IgG. The reduced aggregates contain two main higher-molecular-weight complexes, one shown by the use of radioactive components to contain both IgG and C4b and probably therefore the alpha' chain of C4b and the heavy chain of IgG, and the other only C4b and probably an alpha' chain dimer. The aggregates with bound C1 and C4b show maximal C3 convertase activity, in the presence of excess C2, when the alpha'-H chain component is in relatively highest amounts. When C4 is incubated with C1s in the absence of aggregates, up to 15% of a C4b dimer is formed, which on reduction gives an alpha' chain complex, probably a dimer. The apparent covalent interaction between C4b and IgG and between C4b and other C4b molecules cannot be inhibited by iodoacetamide and hence cannot be catalysed by transglutaminase (factor XIII). The reaction is, however, inhibited by cadaverine and putrescine and 14C-labelled putrescine is incorporated into C4, again by a strong, probably covalent, bond. It is suggested that a reactive group, possibly an acyl group, is generated when C4 is activated by C1 and that this reactive group can react with IgG, with another C4 molecule, or with water.

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