Complement in urochordates: cloning and characterization of two C3-like genes in the ascidian Ciona intestinalis
The recent identification of two mannose-binding lectin-associated serine protease clones from Halocynthia roretzi, an ascidian, suggested the presence of a complement system in urochordates. To elucidate the structure and function of this possibly primitive complement system, we have isolated cDNA clones for ascidian C3 (AsC3) and purified AsC3 protein from body fluid. The deduced primary structure of AsC3 shows overall similarity to mammalian C3, including a typical thioester site with the His residue required for nucleophilic activation of the thioester. AsC3 has a two-subunit chain structure, and the alpha-chain is cleaved at a specific site near to the N terminus upon activation. Ascidian body fluid contains an opsonic activity which enhances phagocytosis of yeast by ascidian blood cells, and Ab against AsC3 inhibits this opsonic activity. These results indicate that the complement system played a pivotal role in innate immunity by enhancing phagocytosis before the emergence of the vertebrates and well ahead of the establishment of adaptive immunity, which is believed to have occurred at about the time of the appearance of cartilaginous fish.