Treatment of human C4 with chemical denaturants and heat produces rapid, autolytic peptide bond cleavage of the alpha-chain. These alpha-chain fragments are linked to the parent C4 molecule through disulfide bonds. On more prolonged heating, however, there is liberation of several peptides, including the beta-chain, the gamma-chain, and a C-terminal alpha-chain fragment. This reaction is inhibited by iodoacetamide. By using a fluorescent thiol reagent and 14C-iodoacetamide, the thiol group present on each peptide was analyzed. The results suggest that the thiol residue exposed by cleavage of the thioester bond induces thiol-disulfide interchange reactions to liberate the peptides. Based on the identification of fragments liberated, the kinetics of their appearance, their sulfhydryl content, and the reported primary structure of human C4, a model of the interchain disulfide bonds is proposed in which the amino terminal portion of the alpha-chain is disulfide-linked to both the beta- and gamma-chains, whereas the carboxyl terminal portion of the alpha-chain is disulfide-linked to only the gamma-chain.