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CD59, decay accelerating factor (DAF) and membrane cofactor protein (MCP) are widely expressed cell surface glycoproteins that protect host cells from the effects of homologous complement attack. Complement inhibitory activity of these proteins is species-selective. We show that the human breast cancer cell line MCF7 is relatively resistant to lysis by human complement, but is effectively lysed by rat or mouse complement. CD59, DAF and MCP were all shown to be expressed by MCF7. The species-selective nature of CD59 activity was used to demonstrate directly the effectiveness of CD59 at protecting cancer cells from complement-mediated lysis. cDNAs encoding rat and mouse CD59 were separately transfected into MCF7 cells, and cell populations expressing high levels of the rodent CD59 were isolated by cell sorting. Data show that rat and mouse CD59 were highly effective at protecting transfected MCF7 cells from lysis by rat and mouse complement, respectively. Data further reveal that rat CD59 is not effective against mouse complement, whereas mouse CD59 is effective against both mouse and rat complement. These studies establish a model system for relevant in vivo studies aimed at determining the effect of complement regulation on tumourigenesis, and show that for effective immunotherapy using complement-activating anti-tumour antibodies, the neutralization of CD59 and/or other complement inhibitory molecules will probably be required.