The functional and immunochemical characteristics of the human glomerular C3 receptor were investigated by adherence of sheep erythrocytes (Es) coated with defined C3 fragments and by using polyclonal and/or monoclonal antibodies directed against epitopes expressed on complement receptors CR1, CR2, and CR3. C3b-bearing Es (EsC3b) strongly adhered to glomeruli in frozen kidney sections in a reaction that was selectively inhibited by F(ab')2 anti-CR1 antibodies. There was no adherence of EsC3dg, EsC3d, and EsC3bi in the presence or absence of Ca++ and Mg++ under physiologic buffer conditions. The weak glomerular binding of EsC3bi, which was observed in half-isotonic buffer was selectively suppressed by anti-CR1 antibodies. By indirect immunofluorescence, anti-CR1 antibodies stained all podocytes in glomeruli, whereas no staining of kidney sections was seen with OKM1 and anti-Mol antibodies directed against the alpha-chain of CR3 and with anti-CR2 antibodies anti-B2 and BL13. Solubilization of membrane glycoproteins from freshly isolated glomeruli from three human kidneys, in the presence of 0.1% Nonidet P-40, yielded a material that bound to lentil lectin Sepharose and could accelerate the decay of preformed cell-bound amplification C3 convertase sites in a reaction that was inhibited by anti-CR1 antibodies. The material containing CR1 activity was labeled with 125I, immunoprecipitated with anti-CR1, and analyzed by SDS-PAGE and autoradiography. Anti-CR1 immunoprecipitated a form of CR1 of Mr 205,000 in solubilized glomeruli from three donors, and an additional form of Mr 160,000 in glomeruli from two of the donors. Immunoprecipitation of CR1 from surface-labeled erythrocytes from these individuals demonstrated them to be homozygous for the 205,000 Mr form of the receptor. Whether the 160,000 band represents in vitro or in vivo proteolytic cleavage of CR1, or cell specific-modulation of gene expression of glomerular CR1, remains unclear. Thus, CR1 is the only type of C3 receptor expressed in the human kidney. Glomerular CR1 shares the functional antigenic and biochemical properties of the C3b/C4b CR1 receptor of peripheral blood cells.