Purpose: Aqueous humor inhibits activation of the classic complement pathway; however, the mechanism of this inhibition is unknown. We have examined at the molecular level potential factors responsible for the inhibition, and we have tried to determine where in the complement pathway the inhibition takes place.
Methods: Fresh rabbit aqueous humor was size fractionated by centrifuge concentrators and by size exclusion column chromatography, and each fraction was assayed for inhibition of the classic complement pathway in a standard CH50 hemolytic assay. Fractions with inhibitory activity were assayed for protein and the presence of ascorbic acid and were subjected to heat treatment. To identify where in the pathway the inhibitor(s) function, the expression of activated complement components bound to the surface of antibody-coated erythrocytes was analyzed by flow cytometry using fluorescein isothiocyanate-labeled antibodies to specific complement components. In addition, hemolytic assays were performed for the function of individual complement components.
Results: The most potent inhibition of the classic pathway was in a fraction of aqueous humor of less than 1.3 kDa. The inhibitory activity in the fraction was unassociated with detectable protein or ascorbic acid, and it remained present after heat treatment. The functional analysis through flow cytometry and hemolytic assays for individual complement components showed that the inhibitor in the less than 1.3-kDa fraction caused a blockade in the complement pathway at the level of C1q.
Conclusions: The aqueous humor contains a unique potent anticomplementary factor that has a molecular weight less than 1.3 kDa. This heat-stable inhibitory factor inhibits the classic pathway at the level of C1q. These results imply that within the eye the complement pathway is inhibited at the earliest steps of its initiation. Such inhibition would prevent production of complement products that mediate inflammation and chemotaxis of inflammatory cells. Therefore, as part of the adaptation of immune privilege, the ocular microenvironment is protected from inflammation induced by antigen-antibody complexes.