Definition: Ehrlich's term for the thermolabile substance, normally present in serum, that is destructive to certain bacteria and other cells sensitized by a specific complement-fixing antibody. Complement is a group of at least 20 distinct serum proteins, the activity of which is affected by a series of interactions resulting in enzymatic cleavages; it can follow one or the other of at least two pathways. In the case of immune hemolysis (classical pathway), the complex comprises nine components (designated C1 through C9) that react in a definite sequence and the activation of which is usually effected by the antigen-antibody complex; only the first seven components are involved in chemotaxis, and only the first four are involved in immune adherence or phagocytosis or are fixed by conglutinins. An alternative pathway (see properdin system) may be activated by factors other than antigen-antibody complexes, such as repeating polysaccharides or bacterial cell wall components, and involves components other than C1, C4, and C2 in the activation of C3. The terminal complement components form a membrane attack complex that leads to cytolysis of the target cell.
[L. complementum, that which completes, fr. com-pleo, to fill up]
See Also: component of complement
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