Plasminogen is a complement inhibitor.
Plasminogen is a 92-kDa single chain glycoprotein that circulates in plasma as a zymogen and when converted to proteolytically active plasmin dissolves preformed fibrin clots and extracellular matrix components. Here, we characterize the role of plasmin(ogen) in the complement cascade. Plasminogen binds the central complement protein C3, the C3 cleavage products C3b and C3d, and C5. Plasminogen binds to C3, C3b, C3d, and C5 via lysine residues, and the interaction is ionic strength-dependent. Plasminogen and Factor H bind C3b; however, the two proteins bind to different sites and do not compete for binding. Plasminogen affects complement action in multiple ways. Plasminogen enhanced Factor I-mediated C3b degradation in the presence of the cofactor Factor H. Plasminogen when activated to plasmin inhibited complement as demonstrated by hemolytic assays using either rabbit or sheep erythrocytes. Similarly, plasmin either in the fluid phase or attached to surfaces inhibited complement that was activated via the alternative and classical pathways and cleaved C3b to fragments of 68, 40, 30, and 17 kDa. The C3b fragments generated by plasmin differ in size from those generated by the complement protease Factor I, suggesting that plasmin-mediated C3b cleavage fragments lack effector function. Plasmin also cleaved C5 to products of 65, 50, 30, and 25 kDa. Thus, plasmin(ogen) regulates both complement and coagulation, the two central cascade systems of a vertebrate organism. This complement-inhibitory activity of plasmin provides a new explanation why pathogenic microbes utilize plasmin(ogen) for immune evasion and tissue penetration.