In this study, the structure of a novel 1.9-kb transcript coding for complement component 3 (C3) is described. This alternate C3 is identical to the 3' end of the C3 message beginning at position 3300 of the C3 cDNA. Its transcription appears to be driven by an alternate promoter located within intron 8 of the C3 gene. This alternate C3 message contains an open reading frame that may encode a 536-amino acid-long protein identical to the 3' part of the C3 alpha chain. The resulting protein contains the complement receptor CR2 binding site. The suggested 5' end of coding region of the alternate C3 includes information for a potential hydrophobic leader peptide that would allow secretion of the protein. In vitro assays with macrophage-depleted mouse splenic B cells indicate that an activity is secreted from cell lines transfected with the alternate C3 cDNA. Together with Sepharose-bound immunoglobulin M-specific monoclonal antibodies and interleukin 2, it costimulates the proliferation of B cells. Implications for possible in vivo functions are discussed.

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