The fourth component of complement in humans is coded for by two closely linked loci, i.e., C4A and C4B, that have been positioned within the class III region of the human major histocompatibility complex along with the genes for C2, Bf, and steroid 21-OH. Both C4 loci are highly polymorphic and certain alleles, particularly the nulls, are associated with susceptibility to autoimmune disease. About one-half of the null alleles are due to a large deletion that includes both a C4 and flanking 21-OH gene. Despite the near identity of the products of the two loci, the proteins differ dramatically in their efficiency of covalent binding to antigen. The amino acid substitutions responsible for the functional differences have been identified and they are clustered relatively near the covalent binding site within the C4d region of the alpha chain. These observations support the hypothesis that the susceptibility to autoimmune disease is related to the structural variation of the C4 protein.