Based on preliminary evidence indicating that a cell-associated protein of U937 (a human monocyte-like cell line) possessed cofactor activity and was not the C3b/C4b receptor, we sought to further characterize this protein. A sequential four-column purification procedure was devised that includes C3(H2O) affinity chromatography to isolate in reasonable yields and purity a cell-associated protein of U937 and several other human cell lines. Based on its pattern and Mr on SDS-PAGE, acidic pI, and ligand specificity, it is identical to a recently described C3(H2O) or C3b-binding membrane glycoprotein of human PBL and cell lines; having no presently identified function, it was termed gp45-70. After purifying this protein, we determined its functional capabilities and compared them to those of the other complement proteins with regulatory activity directed at components comprising the C3 convertases. This protein was the most efficient (50 times that of H) yet-described cofactor for the I-mediated first cleavage of C3b. It also was a cofactor for the first cleavage of C4b, but was not as efficient as C4bp. The second cleavage of C3b and C4b was not efficiently mediated. It had no ability to accelerate decay in the classical or alternative pathway C3 convertases. Based on this unique activity profile and ability to be surface labeled, we have renamed this molecule membrane cofactor protein (MCP). We suggest that this protein plays a major role in preventing autologous complement activation.