The molecular arrangement of the membrane attack mechanism of complement was explored. The molar ratios of the components within the C5-9 assembly on the target cell surface were determined using human complement proteins in highly purified and radiolabeled form. With the aid of monospecific complement antisera it was possible to probe the spatial relationships between the components of the assembly.
C5 and C6, in the presence of C7, were bound to EAC1-3 in equimolar quantities irrespective of the amounts and the relative proportions of C5, C6, and C7 offered. The amount of C8 bound to EAC1-7 increased with input and at saturation of all C8 binding sites the molar ratio of bound C8/bound C5 approached 1.0. Uptake of C9 by EAC1-8 increased with input and at saturation of all C9 binding sites the molar ratio of bound C9/bound C8 became 6.0. However, calculations suggest that the binding of three C9 molecules to one C8 molecule is sufficient to achieve a full hemolytic effect. Evidence was obtained indicating that binding and hemolytic function of C9 depends upon cooperative interaction of multiple C9 molecules.
Binding of C8 to EAC1-7 and the generation of hemolytic C8 sites were inhibited by antibody to either C5, C6, or C7. Uptake of C9 by EAC1-8 and the generation of hemolytic C9 sites were strongly inhibited by anti-C8 and to a lesser degree by anti-C5. Binding of C9 (but not hemolysis) was also reduced by antibody to C6 or C7.
The data are consistent with the concept that the fully assembled membrane attack mechanism of complement consists of a decamolecular complex: a trimolecular arrangement composed of C5, C6, and C7 forms the binding site for one C8 molecule which in turn furnishes binding sites for six C9 molecules, saturation of three sites apparently being sufficient for expression of full cytolytic activity of the complex. This work made it possible to design a simple molecular model.