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EMBO J. 2005 Jan 26;24(2):382-94. Epub 2004 Dec 23.

The ancient origin of the complement system.

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  • 1Department of Biological Science, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore.


The complement system has been thought to originate exclusively in the deuterostomes. Here, we show that the central complement components already existed in the primitive protostome lineage. A functional homolog of vertebrate complement 3, CrC3, has been isolated from a 'living fossil', the horseshoe crab (Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda). CrC3 resembles human C3 and shows closest homology to C3 sequences of lower deuterostomes. CrC3 and plasma lectins bind a wide range of microbes, forming the frontline innate immune defense system. Additionally, we identified CrC2/Bf, a homolog of vertebrate C2 and Bf that participates in C3 activation, and a C3 receptor-like sequence. Furthermore, complement-mediated phagocytosis of bacteria by the hemocytes of horseshoe crab was also observed. Thus, a primitive yet complex opsonic complement defense system is revealed in the horseshoe crab, a protostome species. Our findings demonstrate an ancient origin of the critical complement components and the opsonic defense mechanism in the Precambrian ancestor of bilateral animals.

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