The availability of the human genome sequence allowed us to identify a human complement-related, C1r-like protease gene (c1r-LP) located 2 kb centromeric of the C1r gene (c1r). Compared with c1r, c1r-LP carries a large deletion corresponding to exons 4-8 of c1r. The open reading frame of the C1r-LP cDNA predicts a 50 kDa modular protein displaying 52% amino acid residue identity with the corresponding regions of C1r and 75% identity with a previously described murine C1r-LP. The serine protease domain of C1r-LP, despite an overall similarity with the AGY group of complement serine proteases, has certain structural features characteristic of C2 and factor B, thus raising interesting evolutionary questions. Northern blotting demonstrated the expression of C1r-LP mRNA mainly in the liver and ELISA demonstrated the presence of the protein in human serum at a concentration of 5.5+/-0.9 microg/ml. Immunoprecipitation experiments failed to demonstrate an association of C1r-LP with the C1 complex in serum. Recombinant C1r-LP exhibits esterolytic activity against peptide thioesters with arginine at the P1 position, but its catalytic efficiency (kcat/K(m)) is lower than that of C1r and C1s. The enzymic activity of C1r-LP is inhibited by di-isopropyl fluorophosphate and also by C1 inhibitor, which forms stable complexes with the protease. Most importantly, C1r-LP also expresses proteolytic activity, cleaving pro-C1s into two fragments of sizes identical with those of the two chains of active C1s. Thus C1r-LP may provide a novel means for the formation of the classical pathway C3/C5 convertase.