Five elicited macrophage populations synthesized one-third to one-tenth as much hemolytically active C4 when compared with resident peritoneal macrophages. This decrease in functional C4 activity was not caused by inhibitors or protease activity in the elicited macrophage supernatants. Analysis of C4 antigen indicated a similar reduction in the elicited cells compared with the resident macrophages. A defect in precursor processing or secretion was deemed unlikely because the intracellular C4 precursor was appropriately reduced in the elicited cells. We postulate that mouse resident peritoneal macrophages are a pluripotent cell population with broad capabilities in regard to the initiation of the inflammatory response. In contrast, elicited or activated macrophages may be more specialized cells, with one manifestation of this being the "down" regulation of C4 synthesis.