Complement: a unique innate immune sensor for danger signals

Mol Immunol. 2004 Nov;41(11):1089-98. doi: 10.1016/j.molimm.2004.06.011.


The complement (C) inflammatory cascade is part of the phylogenetically ancient innate immune response and is crucial to our natural ability to ward off infection. It has three critical physiologic activities: (i) defending against microbial infections by triggering the generation of a membranolytic complex (C5b9 complex) at the surface of the pathogen and C fragments (named opsonins, i.e., C1q, C3b and iC3b) which interact with C cell surface receptors (CR1, CR3 and CR4) to promote phagocytosis. Soluble C anaphylatoxins (C4a, C3a and C5a) greatly control the local pro-inflammatory response through the chemotaxis and activation of leukocytes; (ii) bridging innate and adaptive immunity (essentially through C receptor type 2, CR2, expressed by B cells) and (iii) disposing of immune complexes and the products of the inflammatory injury (i.e., other danger signals, e.g., toxic cell debris and apoptotic corpses) to ensure the protection and healing of the host. The regulatory mechanisms of C are finely balanced so that, on the one hand, the deposition of C is focused on the surface of invading microorganisms and, on the other hand, the deposition of C on normal cells is limited by several key C inhibitors (e.g., CD46, CD55 and CD59). Knowledge of the unique molecular and cellular innate immunological interactions that occur in the development and resolution of pathology should facilitate the design of effective therapeutic strategies to fight selectively against intruders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Complement C1q / immunology
  • Complement C1q / physiology
  • Complement System Proteins / immunology
  • Complement System Proteins / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology*
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / immunology
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / physiology
  • Phagocytosis / immunology
  • Receptors, Complement / immunology
  • Receptors, Complement / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / immunology


  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Receptors, Complement
  • complement 1q receptor
  • Complement C1q
  • Complement System Proteins