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Structure and activation of C1, the complex initiating the classical pathway of the complement cascade

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The complement system is an important antimicrobial and inflammation-generating component of the innate immune system. The classical pathway of complement is activated upon binding of the 774-kDa C1 complex, consisting of the recognition molecule C1q and the tetrameric protease complex C1r2s2, to a variety of activators presenting specific molecular patterns such as IgG- and IgM-containing immune complexes. A canonical model entails a C1r2s2 with its serine protease domains tightly packed together in the center of C1 and an intricate intramolecular reaction mechanism for activation of C1r and C1s, induced upon C1 binding to the activator. Here, we show that the serine protease domains of C1r and C1s are located at the periphery of the C1r2s2 tetramer both when alone or within the nonactivated C1 complex. Our structural studies indicate that the C1 complex adopts a conformation incompatible with intramolecular activation of C1, suggesting instead that intermolecular proteolytic activation between neighboring C1 complexes bound to a complement activating surface occurs. Our results rationalize how a multitude of structurally unrelated molecular patterns can activate C1 and suggests a conserved mechanism for complement activation through the classical and the related lectin pathway.

Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Pages (from-to)986-991
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2017

    Research areas

  • Complement, Innate immunity, Proteolytic cascade, Structural biology

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