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Immunol Rev. 2016 Nov;274(1):152-171. doi: 10.1111/imr.12475.

Protection of host cells by complement regulators.

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Institute of Pharmacology of Natural Products and Clinical Pharmacology, Ulm University, Ulm, Germany.
Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA.


The complement cascade is an ancient immune-surveillance system that not only provides protection from pathogen invasion but has also evolved to participate in physiological processes to maintain tissue homeostasis. The alternative pathway (AP) of complement activation is the evolutionarily oldest part of this innate immune cascade. It is unique in that it is continuously activated at a low level and arbitrarily probes foreign, modified-self, and also unaltered self-structures. This indiscriminate activation necessitates the presence of preformed regulators on autologous surfaces to spare self-cells from the undirected nature of AP activation. Although the other two canonical complement activation routes, the classical and lectin pathways, initiate the cascade more specifically through pattern recognition, their activity still needs to be tightly controlled to avoid excessive reactivity. It is the perpetual duty of complement regulators to protect the self from damage inflicted by inadequate complement activation. Here, we review the role of complement regulators as preformed mediators of defense, explain their common and specialized functions, and discuss selected cases in which alterations in complement regulators lead to disease. Finally, rational engineering approaches using natural complement inhibitors as potential therapeutics are highlighted.


complement receptors; factor H; host recognition; soluble regulators

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