There is evidence that complement components may be formed locally in inflammatory lesions containing monocytes and macrophages. To investigate the role of complement in Crohn's disease we measured jejunal-fluid concentrations of the complement components C4, C3, and factor B by perfusion of a closed segment of the jejunum in 22 patients with Crohn's disease thought to be limited to the terminal ileum. The mean (+/- SEM) jejunal-fluid C4 concentration was 2.0 +/- 0.3 mg per liter, significantly higher than the mean level in 35 healthy controls (0.7 +/- 0.1 mg per liter; P less than 0.001). The mean C3 concentration was 1.0 +/- 0.1 mg per liter in the patients and 0.7 +/- 0.1 mg per liter in the controls (P less than 0.05). The factor B levels were similar in the two groups. Calculated rates of intestinal secretion of these components showed differences of the same magnitude. Leakage of protein from plasma was not increased. The jejunal-fluid:serum ratios of these complement proteins indicated that their appearance in the lumen of the jejunum was due to at least in part to local mucosal synthesis. The increased jejunal secretion of C4, but not C3 or factor B, paralleled the clinical activity of Crohn's disease. Values were normal in first-degree relatives of the patients (n = 13), patients with celiac disease (n = 8), and patients with ulcerative colitis (n = 4). We conclude that increased secretion of complement by clinically unaffected jejunal tissue in patients with Crohn's disease reflects the systemic nature of this disorder and may be due to the stimulated synthesis of complement by activated intestinal monocytes and macrophages.