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One form of C3-convertase, also known as C4b2a, is formed by a heterodimer of activated forms of C4 and C2. It catalyzes the proteolytic cleavage of C3 into C3a and C3b, generated during activation through the classical pathway as well as the lectin pathway. C3a is an anaphylotoxin and the precursor of some cytokines such as ASP, and C3b serves as an opsonizing agent. Factor I can cleave C3b into C3c and C3d, the latter of which plays a role in enhancing B cell responses. In the alternative complement pathway, C3 is cleaved by C3bBb, another form of C3-convertase composed of activated forms of C3 (C3b) and factor B (Bb). Once C3 is activated to C3b, it exposes a reactive thioester that allows the peptide to covalently attach to any surface that can provide a nucleophile such as a primary amine or a hydroxyl group. Activated C3 can then interact with factor B. Factor B is then activated by factor D, to form Bb. The resultant complex, C3bBb, is called the alternative pathway (AP) C3 convertase.
C3bBb is deactivated in steps. First, the proteolytic component of the convertase, Bb, is removed by complement regulatory proteins having decay-accelerating factor (DAF) activity. Next, C3b is broken down progressively to first iC3b, then C3c + C3dg, and then finally C3d. Factor I is the protease that performs these cuts but it requires the help of another protein (Factor H, CR1, MCP or C4BP) to supply cofactor activity.
Several crystallographic structures of C3 have been determined and reveal that this protein contains 13 domains.
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