Complement activation is associated with antiphospholipid antibody–induced thrombotic events.
Patients with catastrophic APS harbor rare germline mutations in complement regulatory genes.
The antiphospholipid syndrome (APS) is characterized by thrombosis and/or pregnancy morbidity in the presence of antiphospholipid antibodies, including anti-β2-glycoprotein-I (anti-β2GPI), that are considered central to APS pathogenesis. Based on animal studies showing a role of complement in APS-related clinical events, we used the modified Ham (mHam) assay (complement-dependent cell killing) and cell-surface deposition of C5b-9 to test the hypothesis that complement activation is associated with thrombotic events in APS. A positive mHam (and corresponding C5b-9 deposition) were present in 85.7% of catastrophic APS (CAPS), 35.6% of APS (and 68.5% of samples collected within 1 year of thrombosis), and only 6.8% of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) sera. A positive mHam assay was associated with triple positivity (for lupus anticoagulant, anticardiolipin, and anti-β2GPI antibodies) and recurrent thrombosis. Patient-derived anti-β2GPI antibodies also induced C5b-9 deposition, which was blocked completely by an anti-C5 monoclonal antibody, but not by a factor D inhibitor, indicating that complement activation by anti-β2GPI antibodies occurs primarily through the classical complement pathway. Finally, patients with CAPS have high rates of rare germline variants in complement regulatory genes (60%), compared with patients with APS (21.8%) or SLE (28.6%) or normal controls (23.3%), and have mutations at a rate similar to that of patients with atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome (51.5%). Taken together, our data suggest that anti-β2GPI antibodies activate complement and contribute to thrombosis in APS, whereas patients with CAPS have underlying mutations in complement regulatory genes that serve as a “second hit,” leading to uncontrolled complement activation and a more severe thrombotic phenotype.