We have previously shown that multiple complement (C) channels are required for lysis of a nucleated cell in contrast to the single channel requirement for erythrocytes. To further investigate this multichannel requirement for nucleated cells, we examined the stability of terminal C complexes in the plasma membrane of Ehrlich ascites tumor cells. Ehrlich cells bearing C5b-7 or C5b-8 with or without C9 were incubated at 37 degrees C or 0 degree C for various time intervals before converting the remaining complexes to lytic C5b-9 channels. C5b-7, C5b-8, and C5b-8 in the presence of a limited number of C5b-9 complexes disappeared functionally from the plasma membrane at 37 degrees C, with initial half-lives of 31, 20, and 10 min, respectively. Disappearance of these complexes did not occur at 0 degree C, nor did disappearance occur at 37 degrees C when formed on sheep erythrocytes. The fate of C5b-8 complexes on the surface of Ehrlich cells was traced with colloidal gold particles bound to C5 determinants on C5b-8 with the use of immunoelectron microscopy. Colloidal gold could be seen on the cell surface after specific binding to cells carrying C5b-8 sites at 0 degree C. After incubating these cells at 37 degrees C, gold particles were internalized into the cell continuously via endocytic vesicles. It is postulated that terminal C complexes may stimulate or accelerate the removal of these complexes from the cell surface.