Purified preparations of human C'1 esterase, C'4, C'2, C'3, and C'5 were labeled with 125I. Reaction mixtures were prepared containing a single labeled component and other unlabled components. After incubation at 37°C for 10 min at pH 7.4 in the presence of 5 x 10–4 M Mg2+, they were adjusted to pH 3.5 and subjected to sucrose density gradient ultracentrifugation and gel filtration at pH 3.5. In all cases, an activity capable of contracting guinea pig ileum with tachyphylaxis was obtained in low molecular weight fractions. However, these fractions were labeled only when 125I-C'3 was employed, indicating that biological activity was associated with a cleavage product of C'3. This fragment has been designated F(a)C'3 in a nomenclature consistent with that of immunoglobulin degradation products. The much larger, residual portion of the C'3 molecule has been designated F(b)C'3.
The biochemical characteristics of generation of F(a)C'3 were consistent with a mechanism involving action of C'1 esterase on C'4 and C'2, activation of C'2, and cleavage of C'3.
F(a)C'3 had a molecular weight by gel filtration techniques of 6800 or less. It was thermostable and susceptible to inactivation by endo- and exopeptidases. The isolated fragment possessed all of the biological properties of unfractionated mixtures of C'1 esterase, C'4, C'2, and C'3. In addition to contraction of guinea pig ileum, these included failure to contract rat uterus, enhancement of vascular permeability in guinea pig skin, degranulation of mast cells in guinea pig mesentery, and release of histamine from rat peritoneal mast cells. F(a)C'3 did not cross-desensitize guinea pig ileum to rat agar anaphylatoxin and vice versa.
The existence of different protein fragments with anaphylatoxin properties has been discussed. Distinctive characteristics of F(a)C'3 from classical anaphylatoxin generated by treatment of fresh rat serum with agar have been indicated.