Activation of the complement system by IgA was investigated with immune complexes containing a mouse IgA myeloma protein with specificity for phosphorylcholine linked to bovine serum albumin (PC-BSA). These IgA anti-PC-BSA immune complexes activated the alternative complement pathway in mouse and guinea pig serum, while human complement was not affected. The activation proceeded with consumption of C3 but little or no consumption of C5. C3 did not bind to the IgA immune complexes during complement activation although it did bind covalently to IgG immune complexes. It is suggested that IgA immune complexes do not supply a suitable surface for C3 binding and effective alternative pathway convertase assembly; therefore, cleavage is limited and occurs primarily in the fluid phase. Without C3 binding, C5 cleavage does not occur nor can the alternative pathway activation proceed to the amplification step.