We have studied the interaction of C-reactive protein (CRP)-chromatin complexes with serum. The amount of chromatin solubilized by serum is directly proportional to the amount of CRP present. Serum minus C3 did not appreciably solubilize chromatin within the time allowed in these experiments regardless of the amount of CRP present. This indicates that, in addition to CRP, complement is critical to the solubilization process. Studies using genetically C2-deficient serum and purified C2 indicate that the classical complement pathway is primarily involved in the solubilization, however, there may be minor involvement by the alternative pathway. We used an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay to determine the amounts of CRP in plasma from eight patients with systemic lupus erythematosus; two of the eight had levels of CRP far lower than previously reported for normal individuals, and an additional sample had antibodies reactive with CRP. Together, these results suggest that one of the functions of CRP is to mediate the removal of exposed nuclear DNA by complement-dependent solubilization of chromatin. A defect in this mechanism could (a) facilitate the production of antibodies against chromatin components exposed due to tissue damage or (b) contribute to immune complexes containing the chromatin components released from damaged tissue because they are not rapidly cleared.