Membrane cofactor protein (MCP; CD46) is a widely distributed C3b/C4b-binding cell surface glycoprotein which serves as an inhibitor of complement activation on host cells. The protein has been purified, multiple cDNAs cloned and sequenced, and the genomic organization determined. MCP belongs to a family known as the regulators of complement activation (RCA) gene cluster. The RCA members are related structurally [possess approximately 60 amino acid repeating motifs termed short consensus repeats (SCR)], functionally (bind C3b/C4b), and genetically (genes are tightly clustered on chromosome 1 at q3.2). Beginning at its amino-terminus, MCP is composed of four SCRs, a ser/thr/pro-enriched region, an area of undefined function, a transmembrane hydrophobic domain, a cytoplasmic anchor and cytoplasmic tail. On SDS-PAGE, MCP migrates as two broad forms with Mrs of 59,000-68,000 and 51,000-58,000. The quantity of each form expressed is inherited in an autosomal codominant fashion. This structural heterogeneity is partly explained by the expression of multiple cDNA/protein isoforms that arise by alternative splicing of ser/thr/pro-rich exons (sites of heavy O-glycosylation) and of cytoplasmic tails. This protein is of interest to immunologists and clinicians because of its role in regulation of the complement pathways and, therefore, inflammation in immune complex-mediated syndromes; to reproductive immunologists on account of its expression on sperm and at the maternal-fetal interface; and to tumor immunologists because of its high expression on malignant cells. The availability of monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies and molecular probes will be helpful in addressing questions about the biology of MCP in these and other areas.