A small fragment of C3, called C3a, which has smooth muscle contracting activity, was isolated by three different methods. At pH 8.6, C3a behaved as cation, and using the Archibald method, its mol wt was determined to be 7000. A specific antiserum to C3a showed the fragment to be antigenically distinct from the rest of the C3 molecule, i.e., the C3b portion. The same antiserum and an anti-whole C3 were able to inhibit the biologic activity of C3a. In addition to anaphylatoxin activity, leukocyte chemotactic activity was shown to reside in C3a. Treatment with trypsin caused the cationic fragment to become anionic and abolished the anaphylatoxin but not the chemotactic activity.
C3a fragments with identical biologic activity and comparable cationic properties, as determined by acid disc electrophoresis, were obtained by treatment of C3 with C3 convertase, C3 inactivator complex, trypsin, and plasmin. Thrombin produced a similar C3 fragment which was inactive. It was concluded that C3a corresponds to an unusually basic portion of C3 which may be liberated by attack of a variety of enzymes on a highly susceptible region of the native C3 molecule.
C3b was cleaved by trypsin and less efficiently by thrombin or plasmin into two antigenically distinct pieces: the larger C3c fragment corresponding to ß1A and the smaller C3d fragment to α2D of aged serum. The c- and the d-fragments were separated and characterized.
Isolated C3a rapidly lost its anaphylatoxin activity when treated with small amounts of a partially purified, thermolabile 10S α-pseudoglobulin of human serum. The conditions of inactivation suggested an enzymatic reaction. The anaphylatoxin inactivator also destroyed the activity of C5-derived anaphylatoxin and of lysyl bradykinin.