Complementary DNA (cDNA) probes were used to investigate the extrahepatic production of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-linked complement components C4, factor B and C2 in various normal human tissues. The presence of the corresponding messenger RNA (mRNA) was tested by Northern blot analysis. Complement C4 mRNA was found in liver, and with high intensity also in normal kidneys. In contrast, no C2 mRNA and only very low amounts of factor B mRNA could be detected in the kidney. Slot blot hybridization was performed to quantitate the amount of C4 mRNA, and the intensity of C4 mRNA hybridization in the kidney samples was about 25% compared with liver RNA. C4-specific transcripts were not present in isolated glomeruli but in the renal interstitium. Other human tissues, such as tonsil, spleen, thymus, brain, lung and peripheral mononuclear cells, contained no C4 mRNA. Low amounts of C4 mRNA were found in colon, thyroid gland, lymph node and breast carcinoma. The results obtained with lung, where C2 mRNA was found but no C4 mRNA, further indicate an independent, tissue-specific regulation of the class III gene expression. The results, showing that the complement C4 genes are transcribed very efficiently in normal human kidney, suggest a direct role of complement C4 in renal pathogenesis.