The complement system in host defense and inflammation.
In this discussion I have reviewed the major role of complement in host defense and inflammation. In addition, I have discussed dificiency states. Although these are rare, their clinical signs and symptoms can be predicted, at least in part, on the basis of our current understanding of the biological activities of complement and the various pathways of complement activation. This is not to say that complement plays no role in a wide variety of other illnesses. However, when complement plays a role in an illness, often this is not because it is functioning in an aberrant fashion. The usual situation is that complement is being activated and is serving its normal function in causing inflammation and damage to tissues under abnormal circumstances. Thus, for example, circulating antigen complexes may be deposited in the kidney, activate complement, and mediate tissue inflammation. In this case, complement is functioning normally but is being activated under abnormal circumstances. The same type of analysis can be made for many diseases of many different organ systems. At present, we have no drugs that are effective in humans in controlling the activation of complement and complement-mediated inflammation. We have not yet even established whether local variations in the activity of complement may affect the course of a clinical infection, but there is certainly strongly suggestive evidence to support this idea. It should be clear that under certain circumstances complement may well be a major factor in controlling the course of an infection. The near future should bring a vast expansion in our understanding of how complement contributes to specific clinical illnesses and to the defense of the host against specific microorganisms.
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