Lectins like mannan-binding protein are part of the innate immune system. They circulate in association with serine proteases. Upon binding oligosaccharides, they activate the complement cascade analogous to the more familiar but evolutionarily more recent classical pathway, which is triggered by antibody binding to antigen. In this issue of the JCI, Selander et al. developed a sensitive and specific ELISA employing Salmonella-specific sugars to assess the activity of the lectin pathway of complement activation (see the related article beginning on page 1425). This more physiologic assay system allowed the investigators to rigorously define the requirements for lectin pathway activation. Furthermore, they uncovered an unsuspected means for this pathway to reach the desired critical step of activation of the opsonin C3. These types of functional assays will eventually replace the more laborious, less physiologic, and less informative approaches currently in use to monitor complement activation.
John P. Atkinson, Michael M. Frank
Three pathways of complement activation.