Nucleated cells employ several strategies to evade killing by homologous complement. We studied complement resistance in the human carcinoma cell lines (CA) T47D (mammary), SKOV3 (ovarian), and PC-3 (prostate) with emphasis on the following mechanisms of defense: 1. Expression and shedding of the membrane complement regulatory proteins (mCRP) CD46, CD55 and CD59; 2. Resistance based on protein phosphorylation; 3. Cell surface expression of sialic acid residues; 4. Desensitization to complement upon exposure to sublytic complement doses. Anti-mCRP antibody blocking experiments demonstrated that CD59 is the main mCRP protecting these CA from complement. Soluble CD59 was also found in supernates of PC-3> SKOV3 > T47D cells. Second, inhibitors of PKC, PKA and MEK sensitized the CA to lysis, thus implicating these protein kinases in CA complement resistance. Third, removal of sialic acid residues with neuraminidase also sensitized CA to lysis. Finally, exposure of CA to sublytic doses of complement conferred on them enhanced resistance to lytic complement doses in a PKC-dependent process. Combined treatment of CA with anti-CD59 antibodies, PD98059 (a MEK inhibitor) and neuraminidase produced a large enhancement in CA sensitivity to complement. Our results show that CD59 and sialic acid residues present on the cell surface, and intracellular processes involving protein phosphorylation act additively to secure CA resistance to complement-mediated lysis. Therefore, the effectiveness of antibody- and complement-based cancer immunotherapy will markedly improve by suppression of the various complement resistance mechanisms.