The structure and membrane insertion of the human C5b-9(m) complex, generated by lysis of antibody-coated sheep erythrocytes with whole human serum under conditions where high numbers of classical ring-shaped lesions form, were studied in single and complementary freeze-fracture replicas prepared by unidirectional and rotary shadowing. The intramembrane portion of the C5b-9(m) cylinder was seen on EF-faces as an elevated, circular structure. In nonetched fractures it appeared as a solid stub; in etched fractures a central pit confirmed the existence of a central, water-filled pore in the molecule. Complementary replicas showed that each EF-face ring corresponded to a hole in the lipid plateau of the PF-face. Etched fractures of proteolytically stripped membranes revealed the extramembrane annulus of the C5b-9(m) cylinder on ES-faces and putative internal openings on PS-faces. Allowing for the measured thickness of deposited Pt/C, the dimensions of EF-face rings and ES-face annuli conformed to anticipations derived from negatively stained preparations. Our results support the concept that the hollow cylindrical C5b-9(m) complex penetrates into the inner leaflet of the target erythrocyte membrane bilayer, forming a stable transmembrane protein channel.

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