Inherited deficiency of the fourth component of human complement

Immunodefic Rev. 1988;1(1):3-22.


The highly polymorphic fourth component of human complement (C4) is usually encoded by two genes, C4A and C4B, adjacent to the 21-hydroxylase (21-OH) genes, and is also remarkable by the high frequency of the null alleles, C4A*Q0 and C4B*Q0. Despite considerable structural homology, the gene products of the two loci differ in hemolytic activities, antigenic reactivities and covalent binding affinities to antigens and antibodies. Complete C4 deficiency is exceptional because this condition appears only in homozygotes for the very rare double-null haplotype C4AQ0,BQ0. In contrast, partial C4 deficiency is a common immune protein defect in all human populations as a consequence of the high frequency of the C4 half-null haplotypes. Complete C4 deficiency in most cases gives rise to SLE and an increased susceptibility to infections, and partial C4 deficiencies predispose to different auto-immune diseases related to extended HLA haplotypes bearing the C4 half-null haplotypes. Studies at the DNA level have shown that about half of the null alleles are due to deletions involving C4A and 21-OHA, C4B and 21-OHA or C4B and 21-OHB. Larger deletions including both C4A and C4B genes have never been observed. Partial C4 deficiency may be observed in combination with other complement deficiencies or immune defects, and allo- or auto-anti-C4 immunization is also a possible consequence of this genetic abnormality. Although the pathogenesis of the diseases related to complete and partial C4 deficiencies is not yet clearly understood, it is evident that C4 null alleles represent interesting markers and additive risk factors for autoimmune phenomena.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Autoantibodies / biosynthesis
  • Complement C4 / deficiency*
  • Complement C4 / genetics
  • Complement C4a / deficiency
  • Complement C4a / genetics
  • Complement C4b / deficiency
  • Complement C4b / genetics
  • Humans
  • Isoantibodies / biosynthesis
  • Multigene Family
  • Polymorphism, Genetic


  • Autoantibodies
  • Complement C4
  • Isoantibodies
  • Complement C4a
  • Complement C4b