Mouse monoclonal antibodies were raised against the human C3b receptor (CR1) molecule that had been purified from solubilized erythrocytes membranes. Four hybridomas were selected, cloned and expanded because their supernatants reacted strongly with insolubilized CR1 by ELISA and intensely stained B-dependent areas of the spleen and glomerular podocytes by indirect immunofluorescence. The four monoclonal antibodies, named J3D3, J8B10, J3B11 and J7C2, were IgG1 immunoglobulins. J3D3 immunoprecipitated two protein bands of apparent mol. wts 200,000 and 220,000 from 125I-surface-labeled human erythrocytes, which correspond to the two major allotypic forms of CR1. By indirect immunofluorescence, monoclonal antibodies stained polymorphonuclear leucocytes (PMN), most peripheral blood B-cells and a small subset of peripheral blood T-cells. J3D3 bound to CR1 on erythrocytes, PMN and lymphocytes with an affinity of 1-3 X 10(9) M-1 and recognized 170-1330 antigenic CR1 sites with an average of 740 sites/erythrocyte in 100 healthy individuals, approx. 50,000 sites/PMN and 15,000 sites/lymphocyte. There was a bimodal distribution of CR1 numbers on erythrocyte in the normal population. The four monoclonal antibodies similarly inhibited CR1-mediated decay of preformed cell-bound alternative- and classical-pathway C3 convertase sites. Two antibodies, J3D3 and J3B11, inhibited C3b-dependent rosette formation with lymphocytes, although much less efficiently than F(ab')2 polyclonal anti-CR1 antibody. Differences that were observed in the relative capacity of the antibodies to inhibit some of the functions of CR1 and in their ability to compete for binding of 125I-J3D3 to CR1 on erythrocytes, suggested that they are directed against different epitopes on CR1. Monoclonal antibodies provide useful means to assess and analyze the biological and immunoregulatory functions of the C3b receptor.