The present work was designed to elucidate the in vivo role of complement in the proteinuria-associated tubulointerstitial injury. Rats were intravenously injected with puromycin aminonucleoside, and massive proteinuria was observed within 5 days. Prominent tubulointerstitial injury characterized by proximal tubular degeneration, tubular dilatation, and leukocyte infiltration were observed 7 days after injection. C3 and C5b-9 were observed in the luminal side of proximal tubular cells. Renal function, assessed by inulin and para-aminohippurate clearance, was significantly decreased. To-assess the role of complement in this model, rats were injected with either cobra venom factor or soluble recombinant human complement receptor type 1 starting at day 3. These manipulations significantly improved tubulointerstitial pathology and para-aminohippurate clearance without affecting the degree of proteinuria. Deposition of C3 and C5b-9 was not detected in the kidney of rats depleted of complement by cobra venom factor. In rats treated with soluble complement receptor, C3 was still detected in the tubules, but deposition of C5b-9 was not observed. Soluble complement receptor was detected at the site of C3 deposition and in the urine. These data strongly suggest that complement plays a pivotal role in proteinuria-associated tubulointerstitial injury and that systemic complement depletion or inhibition of complement in the tubular lumen may diminish the tubulointerstitial damage.