High levels of low-molecular-mass complement component C1q (LMM-C1q), a haemolytically inactive form of C1q, are found in serum of individuals with inherited complete (functional) C1q deficiency and in serum of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus, whereas lower levels are present in normal serum [Hoekzema, Hannema, Swaak, Paardekooper & Hack (1985) J. Immunol. 135, 265-271]. To investigate whether LMM-C1q is a (by-)product of C1q synthesis or the result of degradation of C1q, cultures of blood monocytes and of alveolar macrophages, which secrete functional C1q, were studied. A considerable portion of C1q-like protein secreted by these cells was found to be LMM-C1q. In contrast with the C1q fragments that resulted from degradation of normal C1q during phagocytosis, culture-derived LMM-C1q appeared to be identical with LMM-C1q found in serum, as judged by sedimentation behaviour, subunit structure and recognition by poly- and mono-clonal antibodies raised against C1q. The presence of LMM-C1q in cytoplasmic organelles compatible with the Golgi apparatus and the inability to generate LMM-C1q by impeding hydroxylation and triple-helix formation of C1q further argues against degradation as its source. Monocyte cultures of homozygous probands from two families with complete functional C1q deficiency reflected the abnormalities in serum, i.e. absence of functional C1q, but increased levels of LMM-C1q. By contrast, secretion of C1q and LMM-C1q by cells from healthy individuals was clearly co-ordinate, indicating that LMM-C1q in serum may provide a unique marker of C1q synthesis in vivo.

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