A key component of both innate and adaptive immunity, new understandings of the complement system are expanding its roles beyond that traditionally appreciated. Evidence is accumulating that complement has an intracellular arsenal of components that provide not only immune defense, but also assist in key interactions for host cell functions. Although early work has primarily centered on T cells, the intracellular complement system likely functions in many if not most cells of the body. Some of these functions may trace their origins to the primitive complement system that began as a primeval form of C3 likely tasked for protection from intracellular pathogen invasion. This later expanded to include extracellular defense as C3 became a secreted protein to patrol the vasculature. Other components were added to the growing system including regulators to protect host cells from the indiscriminate effects of this potent system. Contemporary cells may retain some of these vestigial remnants. We now know that a) C3 serves as a damage-associated molecular pattern (in particular by coating pathogens that translocate into cells), b) most cells store C3 and recycle C3(H2O) for immediate use, and c) C3 assists in cellular survival and metabolic reprogramming. Other components also are part of this hidden arsenal including C5, properdin, factors H and B, and complement receptors. Importantly, better definition of the intracellular complement system may translate into new target discovery to assist in creating the next generation of complement therapeutics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2-9
Number of pages8
JournalMolecular Immunology
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017


  • C3
  • C3(HO)
  • CD46
  • Complement
  • Factor H
  • Inflammasome
  • Intracellular complement system
  • Properdin
  • T cells


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