Exposure of E. coli K12 W1485 to the cytolytic alternative pathway assembled from the 11 isolated pathway proteins resulted in killing of the bacteria, as evidenced by loss of viability. Lysis of the bacteria required introduction of lysozyme into the reaction mixture. The time-course and dose dependency of bacteriolysis in the isolated system were identical to those in C4-depleted serum. The bacteriolytic activity of the pathway was highly dependent on the concentration of the pathway proteins and became insignificant at 1:16 physiological concentration. Electron microscopic visualization of killed and of lysed bacteria revealed numerous complement membrane lesions and partial disintegration of the outer phospholipid membrane. Scanning electron microscopy showed that killed bacteria were enlarged, partially collapsed and exhibited irregular surface protrusions. Lysed bacteria were fragmented and appeared polymorphic. This study demonstrates that the alternative pathway, in absence of immunoglobulins, has the potential or eradicating gram-negative bacteria.