We have developed polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies against human membrane cofactor protein (MCP) to use as tools to investigate the functions of MCP on intact nucleated cells. Two human T cell lines, CEM and TALL, are CR1- and DAF-. Pretreatment of these cell lines with M177 and polyclonal anti-MCP, which inhibit cofactor activity almost completely, resulted in effective C3 deposition immediately following addition of these cells to Mg2+/EGTA/human sera. The deposited C3 remained expressed partly on the cell surface and most of them were gradually converted to C3bi. Some of the deposited C3 were complexed with membrane proteins, since 140- and 250-kD bands became significantly accumulated on SDS-PAGE by treatment with the antibodies. We next tested whether these C3-coated cells were damaged by complement-mediated cytolysis. p18, an inhibitor of membrane attack complex (MAC) formation, was negative in TALL but positive in CEM. TALL was lysed efficiently only by treatment with the polyclonal anti-MCP, while CEM showed only slight lysis with the same treatment. Monoclonal antibodies to MCP, including M177, caused only minimal cell destruction. Based on these results, together with the fact that decay-accelerating factor (DAF) serves as a factor for preventing C3 attack on human cells, we conclude that MCP and DAF cooperatively protect host cells from C3 targeting and, in these T cell lines, MCP is sufficient for preventing C3 deposition even without DAF. After all, human cells undergo almost no autologous complement-mediated cytolysis if they express at least one of the functionally active inhibitors, MCP, DAF, or p18.