Complement in health and disease

Adv Drug Deliv Rev. 2011 Sep 16;63(12):965-75. doi: 10.1016/j.addr.2011.06.005. Epub 2011 Jun 16.


The complement system consists of about 35-40 proteins and glycoproteins present in blood plasma or on cell surfaces. Its main biological function is to recognise "foreign" particles and macromolecules, and to promote their elimination either by opsonisation or lysis. Although historically complement has been studied as a system for immune defence against bacteria, it has an important homeostatic role in which it recognises damaged or altered "self" components. Thus complement has major roles in both immune defence against microorganisms, and in clearance of damaged or "used" host components. Since complement proteins opsonise or lyse cells, complement can damage healthy host cells and tissues. The system is regulated by many endogenous regulatory proteins. Regulation is sometimes imperfect and both too much and too little complement activation is associated with many diseases. Excessive or inappropriate activation can cause tissue damage in diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), multiple sclerosis, ischemia-reperfusion injury (e.g. ischemic stroke). Insufficient complement activity is associated with susceptibility to infection (mainly bacterial) and development of autoimmune disease, like SLE (systemic lupus erythematosus).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Complement Activation / physiology*
  • Complement System Proteins / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity


  • Complement System Proteins