Human C4 displays a structural polymorphism which is consistent with there being two closely linked genetic loci coding for this protein. These give rise to two C4 isotypes, designated C4A and C4B, which can be distinguished by charge and apparent m.w. differences in their respective alpha-chains and by the presence or absence of the Chido/Rodgers blood group antigens. Previous qualitative studies of C4 immune hemolysis activity in whole plasma had suggested that the C4B isotype was functionally more active. By using purified C4A and C4B isolated from individual donors known serologically to possess only one of the C4 isotypes, we examined the molecular basis for the differences in their respective hemolytic activities. It was found that the C4B:C4A hemolytic activity ratio was approximately 4:1. This fourfold difference could not be accounted for by a commensurate difference in the cleavage rate of the two isotypes by C1s by differences in the kinetics of assembly or intrinsic decay of the respective C3 convertase enzymes, or by differences in the rate of isotypic C4b cleavage by factor I in the presence of C4bp . However, the fourfold greater deposition efficiency of nascent C4b of the C4B isotype onto the surface of C1-bearing sheep erythrocytes quantitatively accounted for the observed difference in immune hemolysis function. It was further found that the thioester bond of nascent C4b of the C4A isotype preferentially transacylates onto amino group nucleophiles, whereas in the C4B isotype, acylation of hydroxyl groups is strongly preferred. Thus, the difference in immune hemolysis activity between the two C4 isotypes does not necessarily indicate an impairment of function in C4A; it may merely be a reflection of the relative abundance at the surface of a C1-bearing target of hydroxyl and amino groups capable of being acyl acceptors for nascent C4b. Finally, we also present evidence showing that the apparent m.w. difference between the alpha-chains of the C4A and C4B isotypes is not due to differences in protein glycosylation.

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