The complement system constitutes an important component of the defence against foreign organisms, functioning both in innate and adaptive immune systems. It is potentially harmful also to the own organism and is therefore tightly regulated by a number of membrane-bound and soluble factors. C4b-binding protein (C4BP) is a potent circulating soluble inhibitor of the classical and lectin pathways of complement. In recent years, the relationships between the structure of C4BP and its functions have been elucidated using a combination of computer-based molecular analysis and recombinant DNA technologies. Moreover, two novel functions have recently been ascribed to C4BP. One is the ability of C4BP to localize complement regulatory activity to the surface of apoptotic cells via its interaction with the membrane-binding vitamin K-dependent protein S. The other is the ability of C4BP to act as a survival factor for B cells due to an interaction with CD40. The complement regulatory activity of C4BP is not only beneficial because it is also explored by pathogens such as Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Bordetella pertussis, Streptococcus pyogenes, Escherichia coli K1, and Candida albicans, that bind C4BP to their surfaces. This contributes to the serum resistance and the pathogenicity of these bacteria. In this review, the structural requirements and functional importance of the interactions between C4BP and its various ligands are discussed.