Binding of radioactively labeled C1q was used to detect soluble antigen-antibody complexes in sera collected at the time of renal biopsy from 104 patients with immunofluorescent findings consistent with immune-complex disease. In comparison with data obtained with sera from 85 healthy donors, significantly elevated C1q binding activity was demonstrated in sera from 22 patients. C1q binding was elevated in all four patients whose dominant histologic finding on bright field microscopy was an intense interstitial mononuclear cell infiltrate. High C1q binding activity was found preferentially in sera from patients who had diffuse rather than focal histologic abnormalities by light microscopy, heavy glomerular deposits of C4 and C3 by immunofluorescence and elevated serum creatinine concentrations. However, there were many patients with similar immunofluorescent and bright field microscopic changes in whom circulating complexes were not detected and there was no correlation between the pattern of glomerular localization of immune complexes and the C1q binding activity of the sera. Serial measurements of C1q binding activity in the sera from three patients over a 90-day interval emphasized that immune complexes may be demonstrated by this technique only intermittently in the sera of some patients with renal biopsy evidence of immune-complex disease. Nevertheless, these observations suggest that the C1q binding test may be a useful tool to monitor disease activity in patients with immunologically mediated renal disease.