A novel cell surface antigen has been identified on a wide range of lymphoid cells and erythrocytes. A mAb YTH 53.1 (CD59) against this antigen enhanced the lysis of human red cells and lymphocytes by homologous complement. Studies of reactive lysis using different species of C56, and of whole serum used as a source of C7-9, indicated that the inhibitory activity of the CD59 antigen is directed towards the homologous membrane attack complex. CD59 antigen was purified from human urine and erythrocyte stroma by affinity chromatography using the mAb YTH 53.1 immobilized on Sepharose, and, following transient expression of a human T cell cDNA library in COS cells, the corresponding cDNA also identified using the antibody. It was found that the CD59 antigen is a small protein (approximately 20 kD as judged by SDS-PAGE, 11.5 kD predicted from the isolated cDNA) sometimes associated with larger components (45 and 80 kD) in urine. The sequence of CD59 antigen is unlike that of other complement components or regulatory proteins, but shows 26% identity with that of the murine LY-6 antigen. CD59 antigen was released from the surface of transfected COS cells by phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipase C, demonstrating that it is attached to the cell membrane by means of a glycolipid anchor; it is therefore likely to be absent from the surface of affected erythrocytes in the disease paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria.