The mechanisms of renal injury that result in proteinuria in active Heymann nephritis (AHN) remain unclear, though data suggest that in analogy of the passive form of the disease the membrane attack complex C5b-9 may be involved. AHN was induced in an inbred strain of PVG/c-rats that are totally deficient in the C6 component of complement and are unable to form the lytic C5b-9 complex, as well as in non-complement deficient PVG/c+ rats that are immunologic identical to the deficient strain. In both groups of animals comparably high titers of anti-Fx1A autoantibodies were found after three weeks and persisted at 40 weeks. Proteinuria was also similar in both groups, and was first evident at six weeks. High levels of urinary protein, ranging from 200 mg/24 hr to 500 mg/24 hr, were found after 10 weeks and persisted up to one year. Renal biopsy findings at various times post-immunization were identical in both groups, including immunofluorescence staining for Ig and C3 deposits, and also EM findings of subepithelial electron-dense deposits were not different. The injection of heterologous rabbit complement, that partially and temporarily restored the CH50 activity in PVG/c- rats did not alter or hasten the disease. Long-term follow-up showed that all rats in both groups continued to have severe proteinuria and that most animals died between 8 to 12 months after disease induction, without renal impairment. EM findings in serial biopsies demonstrated that the growth of the subepithelial deposits as measured by surface area occurred between weeks 4 and 12. A positive correlation (r = 0.94) between the size of the deposits and the level of proteinuria was found. These studies demonstrate that the membrane attack complex of complement does not play a major role in AHN. The relationship of the size of the immune deposits to the level of proteinuria suggests that the growth of the immune deposits on itself initiate secondary mechanisms that damage the permselective characteristics of the glomerular membrane.