C1q plays a key role in the recognition of immune complexes, thereby initiating the classical pathway of complement activation. Although the triple-helix conformation of its N-terminal segment is well established, the secondary structure of the trimeric globular C-terminal domain is as yet unknown. The secondary structures of human C1q and C1q stalks and pepsin-extracted human collagen types I, III and IV (with no significant non-collagen-like structure) were studied by Fourier-transform i.r. spectroscopy in 2H2O buffers. After second-derivative calculation to resolve the fine structure of the broad amide I band, the Fourier-transform i.r. spectrum of C1q showed two major bands, one at 1637 cm-1, which is a characteristic frequency for beta-sheets, and one at 1661 cm-1. Both major bands were also detected for Clq in H2O buffers. Only the second major band was observed at 1655 cm-1 in pepsin-digested C1q which contains primarily the N-terminal triple-helix region. The Fourier-transform i.r. spectra of collagen in 2H2O also showed a major band at 1659 cm-1 (and minor bands at 1632 cm-1 and 1682 cm-1). It is concluded that the C1q globular heads contain primarily beta-sheet structure. The C-terminal domains of C1q show approximately 25% sequence identity with the non-collagen-like C-terminal regions of the short-chain collagen types VIII and X. To complement the Fourier-transform-i.r. spectroscopic data, averaged Robson and Chou-Fasman structure predictions on 15 similar sequences for the globular domains of C1q and collagen types VIII and X were performed. These showed a clear pattern of ten beta-strands interspersed by beta-turns and /or loops. Residues thought to be important for C1q-immune complex interactions with IgG and IgM were predicted to be at a surface-exposed loop. Sequence insertions and deletions, glycosylation sites, the free cysteine residue and RGD recognition sequences were also predicted to be at surface-exposed positions.

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