Regulation of complement activation by pathogens and the host are critical for survival. Using two highly related orthopoxvirus proteins, the vaccinia and variola (smallpox) virus complement control proteins, which differ by only 11 aa, but differ 1000-fold in their ability to regulate complement activation, we investigated the role of electrostatic potential in predicting functional activity. Electrostatic modeling of the two proteins predicted that altering the vaccinia virus protein to contain the amino acids present in the second short consensus repeat domain of the smallpox protein would result in a vaccinia virus protein with increased complement regulatory activity. Mutagenesis of the vaccinia virus protein confirmed that changing the electrostatic potential of specific regions of the molecule influences its activity and identifies critical residues that result in enhanced function as measured by binding to C3b, inhibition of the alternative pathway of complement activation, and cofactor activity. In addition, we also demonstrate that despite the enhanced activity of the variola virus protein, its cofactor activity in the factor I-mediated degradation of C3b does not result in the cleavage of the alpha' chain of C3b between residues 954-955. Our data have important implications in our understanding of how regulators of complement activation interact with complement, the regulation of the innate immune system, and the rational design of potent complement inhibitors that might be used as therapeutic agents.