Three mechanisms that regulate the formation and function of the classical pathway C3 convertase (C4b2a) have been elucidated: (a) an intrinsic decay of the enzyme that is temperature dependent; (b) an extrinsic decay mediated by the effect of the serum protein C4b binding protein (C4-bp); and (c) inactivation of C4b by the proteolytic action of C4b/C3b inactivator (C4b/C3bINA), which cleaves that alpha' chain of C4b to yield C4d (alpha 2) and C4c (alpha 3, alpha 4, beta, and gamma chains). A fourth mechanism described here is based on the observation that the IgG fraction of the serum of certain patients with glomerulonephritis contains a protein termed C4 nephritic factor (NFc), which prevents the intrinsic decay of C4b2a. This protein, which prolongs the half-life of surface-bound C4b2a from 7.5 min to greater than 5 h, increases the use of C3 and C5. It also inhibits the decay produced by C4-bp by preventing the dissociation of C2a from the C4b2a complex. Additionally, the C2b/C3bINA alone, or in the presence of C4-bp, fails to cleave the alpha' chain of C4b in the surface-bound stabilized C4b2a complex. This protective property of NFc requires the presence of C2a, because C4b was not protected unless it was bound to C2a. Thus in the presence of NFc, the three natural controls of the function of the classical pathway convertase, intrinsic decay, extrinsic decay, and proteolytic cleavage, are bypassed.