Membrane cofactor protein (MCP) of human complement is an iC3/C3b-binding glycoprotein with a characteristic two-band (63 kDa and 55 kDa) pattern on sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE). Using affinity chromatography, it has been found on human mononuclear cells and platelets. MCP has been purified and shown to be a cofactor for the I-mediated cleavage of C3b. A rabbit polyclonal antibody was produced to the purified protein and this reagent employed to analyze the distribution of MCP on human peripheral blood cells. Flow cytometric analysis indicated that MCP is unimodally present on all platelets, granulocytes, T helper lymphocytes, T suppressor/cytotoxic lymphocytes, B lymphocytes, natural killer cells and monocytes but not erythrocytes. The presence of MCP on granulocytes was unexpected. To evaluate this, MCP was isolated by immunoprecipitation and analyzed by SDS-PAGE followed by autoradiography. The Mr of granulocyte MCP was that of a single broad band in which the typical two-band pattern could not be distinguished. Alterations in the conditions of the affinity column procedure increased the efficiency of the isolation of monocyte MCP and led to the reproducible isolation of granulocyte MCP. These results indicate that MCP of granulocytes has both structural and functional differences compared to MCP of plateletes and mononuclear cells. The wide distribution of MCP among peripheral blood cells supports the concept that MCP is important in the protection of host cells from complement-mediated damage.