Pulmonary alveolar type II epithelial cells synthesize and secrete proteins of the classical and alternative complement pathways

J Clin Invest. 1988 May;81(5):1419-26. doi: 10.1172/JCI113472.


The serum complement system is a major mediator of inflammation reactions. Two of the complement proteins, the third (C3) and fifth (C5) components, are precursors of potent phlogistic molecules, C3a and C5a. C5a has potent chemotactic activity and plays an active role in pulmonary inflammation. We present evidence suggesting that several complement proteins, including C5, are synthesized locally in the lung in alveolar type II epithelial cells. Lung tissue from normal mice synthesized and secreted C5 protein similar to the C5 protein in mouse serum, whereas lung tissue from C5-deficient mice did not. Lung tissues from both normal and C5-deficient mice synthesized C3. Rat lung tissue synthesized and secreted C5, as well as C2, C4, C3, and factor B. Cultures of type II cells (95% type II cells, 5% macrophages) regularly synthesized all these proteins. In contrast, cultures of macrophages alone synthesized large amounts of C2 and factor B, and in some experiments C3 and C4, but never C5. The C5 synthesized by the rat cells was slightly larger than serum C5 (200 kD compared with 180 kD) and was not processed to the two-chain molecule seen in serum. Rat lung tissue and purified type II cells contained C5 mRNA with the same molecular mass as the C5 mRNA in rat liver and in mouse lung and liver. Human type II cells also synthesized C5, as well as C2, C4, C3, and factor B. Human pulmonary macrophages synthesized only C2, factor B, and, in some experiments, C3. Synthesis of complement proteins in cells that line the alveolar wall may provide a local source of these proteins for inflammatory responses in the lung. Local synthesis of complement proteins could be regulated independently of the synthesis in the liver.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Complement C2 / biosynthesis
  • Complement C3 / biosynthesis
  • Complement C4 / biosynthesis
  • Complement C5 / biosynthesis
  • Complement C5a
  • Complement Factor B / biosynthesis
  • Complement Pathway, Alternative
  • Complement Pathway, Classical
  • Complement System Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Epithelial Cells
  • Epithelium / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / cytology
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Specific Pathogen-Free Organisms


  • Complement C2
  • Complement C3
  • Complement C4
  • Complement C5
  • Complement C5a
  • Complement System Proteins
  • Complement Factor B