We have previously provided evidence that suggests that exposure of cryostat skin sections to normal human serum (NHS) results in the antibody-independent Clq binding to cytoplasmic structures of various cell types, leading to classical complement pathway activation as evidenced by cytoplasmic C3 deposition. In the present study, we have employed immunoelectronmicroscopic methods to clarify the exact nature of cytoplasmic C3 binding structures. Incubation of cryostat skin sections with NHS followed by peroxidase-labeled rabbit anti-human C3 serum (HRP-R/Hu C3) revealed that intracytoplasmic binding of C3 occurred in suprabasal keratinocytes, melanocytes, fibroblasts, smooth muscle cells, endothelial cells, pericytes, Schwann cells, and nerve axons, but not in basal keratinocytes, Langerhans cells, and other cellular constituents of the skin. C3 binding, as revealed by the deposition of HRP reaction product, was exclusively confined to intermediate-sized filaments (ISF), which can therefore be considered to represent the subcellular site for classical complement pathway activation. Under experimental conditions that do not allow classical complement pathway activation, ISF were not decorated. Our observation that ISF of ontogenetically different cell types share the capacity of complement fixation is in accordance with the recent finding that different ISF types, despite their biochemical and antigenic heterogeneity, have common alpha-helical domains and may provide a clue to the mechanism and site of interaction between complement components and ISF.

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