Defects of early complement components (C1, C4 and C2) are associated with the development of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). The availability of complement knockout mice has increased our knowledge on the role of complement in the regulation of adaptive immunity. An impaired removal of apoptotic bodies, a disturbed clearance of IgG immune complexes (ICs) and an insufficient B-cell regulation via complement receptors CD21/CD35 have been discussed as explanations for the induction of autoimmunity; however, a unifying hypothesis for the loss of B-cell tolerance in the absence of C1 or C4 is still lacking. Using IgM-containing ICs, we observed a significant accumulation of antigen within the splenic marginal zone (MZ) of C4-deficient mice but not in C3-deficient or complement receptors CD21/CD35-deficient mice. The targeting of antigen toward the MZ restored adaptive immunity (antibody response and class switch) in C4-deficient animals. A new explanation for the association of SLE and complement C4 deficiency would be that in the absence of C4, natural antibodies (IgM type) localize more self-antigen toward the MZ so that the auto-antibody response is increased and autoimmune disease ensues. As such, an inadequate localization of self-antigens might be responsible for the annulment of peripheral B-cell tolerance in the absence of C4.