The role of complement in B cell activation and tolerance

Adv Immunol. 2000:74:61-88. doi: 10.1016/s0065-2776(08)60908-6.


It is becoming well accepted that innate immunity serves as a natural adjuvant in enhancing and directing the adaptive immune response. In this review, I have discussed how the complement system, a major mediator of innate immunity, links the two systems. The recent availability of knockout mice bearing selective deficiencies in the critical complement proteins and receptors has allowed formal demonstration of the importance of complement in enhancement of humoral immunity. Characterization of the mice has also uncovered mechanisms for maintaining survival of activated B cells within the lymphoid compartment. For example, co-ligation of the CD21/CD19/Tapa-1 receptor with the BCR not only reduces the threshold for B cell follicular survival but provides a unique signal for survival in the germinal centers. In addition complement receptors are critical for localization of antigen and C3d ligand to FDCs for maintenance of long-term B cell memory. A surprise that has come from analysis of the deficient mice is that complement is also important in negative selection of B lymphocytes. This observation provides new insight to a long-standing enigma that the major predisposing factor in lupus is deficiency in complement C1q or C4. The seeming contradiction of dual role for complement in both B cell activation and tolerance is reconciled by the hypothesis that natural IgM provides a mechanism to selectively identify self-antigens that are highly conserved and cross-react with microbial ones such as DNA and nuclear proteins. Thus, the importance of complement in tolerance to self-antigens is restricted to those self-antigens that are evolutionary conserved, and they are identified by natural antibody. The future should hold further surprises as to the intricate interactions between the complement system and acquired immunity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Animals
  • Antibody Formation
  • Antigens / immunology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology
  • Chickens
  • Chimera
  • Clonal Deletion
  • Complement Activation
  • Complement C3 / immunology
  • Complement System Proteins / deficiency
  • Complement System Proteins / immunology*
  • Dendritic Cells, Follicular / immunology
  • Female
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance / immunology*
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / immunology
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred Strains
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Models, Immunological
  • Muramidase / immunology
  • Receptors, Antigen, B-Cell / immunology
  • Receptors, Complement / immunology
  • Receptors, Complement 3b / deficiency
  • Receptors, Complement 3b / genetics
  • Receptors, Complement 3b / immunology
  • Receptors, Complement 3d / deficiency
  • Receptors, Complement 3d / genetics
  • Receptors, Complement 3d / immunology


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Antigens
  • Complement C3
  • Receptors, Antigen, B-Cell
  • Receptors, Complement
  • Receptors, Complement 3b
  • Receptors, Complement 3d
  • Complement System Proteins
  • Muramidase