C receptor type 1 (CR1, CD35) is present in a soluble form in plasma (sCR1). Soluble CR1 was measured with a specific ELISA assay in normal individuals and in patients with different diseases. The mean serum concentration of sCR1 in 31 normal donors was 31.4 +/- 7.8 ng/ml, and was identical in plasma. An increase in sCR1 was observed in 36 patients with end-stage renal failure on dialysis (54.8 +/- 11.7 ng/ml, p < 0.0001), and in 22 patients with liver cirrhosis (158.3 +/- 49.9 ng/ml, p < 0.0001). The mean sCR1 levels dropped from 181 +/- 62.7 to 52.1 +/- 24.0 ng/ml (p < 0.001) in nine patients who underwent liver transplantation, and was 33.5 +/- 7.3 in 10 patients with functioning renal grafts, indicating that the increase in sCR1 was reversible. Soluble CR1 was elevated in some hematologic malignancies (> 47 ng/ml), which included B cell lymphoma (12/19 patients), Hodgkin's lymphoma (4/4), and chronic myeloproliferative syndromes (4/5). By contrast, no increase was observed in acute myeloid or lymphoblastic leukemia (10) or myeloma (5). In two patients with chronic myeloproliferative syndromes, sCR1 decreased rapidly after chemotherapy. The mean concentration of sCR1 was not significantly modified in 181 HIV-infected patients at various stages of the disease (34.8 +/- 14.4 ng/ml), and in 13 patients with active SLE (38.3 +/- 19.6 ng/ml), although in both groups the number of CR1 was diminished on E. There was a weak but significant correlation between sCR1 and CR1 per E in HIV infection and SLE (r = 0.39, p < 0.0001, and r = 0.60, p < 0.03 respectively). In vitro, monocytes, lymphocytes, and neutrophils were found to release sCR1 into culture supernatants. In vivo, sCR1 was detected in the serum of SCID mice populated with human peripheral blood leukocytes. The sCR1 levels correlated with those of human IgG (r = 0.97, p < 0.0001), suggesting synthesis of sCR1 by the transferred lymphocytes. The mechanisms underlining the increased levels of sCR1 and its biologic consequences remain to be defined.