Synergistic cytotoxicity is a term used to describe a cytotoxic system in which xenogeneic erythrocyte target cells are lysed in the presence of nonimmune human mononuclear effector cells and antibody-depleted normal human serum. Neither the mononuclear cells nor the serum alone are cytolytic to the target erythrocytes. Previous studies have shown that the serum activity is not immunoglobulin and is heat-labile, suggesting a similarity to serum complement. In this report, sera deficient in various complement components as well as highly purified single complement components were tested with whole mononuclear cell populations and purified monocytes and lymphocytes to further characterize this cytotoxicity system. Whole mononuclear cell populations failed to mediate target cell lysis in sera deficient in C5 or factor B. However, C3-deficient serum, even in the presence of anti-C3 antibody, supported synergistic cytotoxicity normally. Purified lymphocytes were also normally cytotoxic in C3-deficient serum but failed to lyse targets in sera deficient in C5, C7, C8, or depleted of factor B. Purified monocytes failed to lyse the target cells only in factor B-depleted serum and could lyse the target cells in serum-free medium when purified factor B alone was added. Monocyte-mediated cytotoxicity induced by factor B was inhibited 73-100% by adding lymphocytes back to the purified monocytes. Thus, both lymphocytes and monocytes can serve as effector cells in this form of cytotoxicity but require cooperative interaction with different sets of complement components. In addition, lymphocytes can modulate the monocyte-mediated form of target cell lysis associated with factor B.