There is growing evidence that certain components of complement systems in lower vertebrates are promiscuous in their modes of activation through the classical or alternative pathways. To better understand the evolution of the classical pathway, we have evaluated the degree of functional diversification of key components of the classical and alternative pathways in rainbow trout, an evolutionarily relevant teleost species. Trout C4 was purified in two distinct forms (C4-1 and C4-2), both exhibiting the presence of a thioester bond at the cDNA and protein levels. C4-1 and C4-2 bound in a similar manner to trout IgM-sensitized sheep erythrocytes in the presence of Ca2+/Mg 2+, and both C4 molecules equally restored the classical pathway-mediated hemolytic activity of serum depleted of C3 and C4. Reconstitution of activity was dependent on the presence of both C3-1 and C4-1/C4-2 and on the presence of IgM bound to the sheep erythrocytes. A C1s-like molecule was shown to cleave specifically purified C4-1 and C4-2 into C4b, while failing to cleave trout C3 molecules. The C1s preparation was unable to cleave trout factor B/C2 when added in the presence of C3b or C4b molecules. Our results show a striking conservation of the mode of activation of the classical pathway. We also show that functional interchange between components of the classical and alternative pathway in teleosts is more restricted than was anticipated. These data suggest that functional diversification between the two pathways must have occurred shortly after the gene duplication that gave rise to the earliest classical pathway molecules.