Previous studies have shown that pemphigus vulgaris (PV) IgG will fix early complement components (C1q, C4, and C3) to cultured murine epidermal cell surfaces and that PV IgG and complement alter epidermal cell membrane integrity. The present study was undertaken to determine if assembly of terminal complement components (C5, C6, C7, C8, and C9) and expression of C5b-9 neoantigens occur when PV IgG interacts with human keratinocyte (HuK) cell surface antigens in the presence of a source of complement. Monoclonal antibodies specific for C5, C6, C7, C8, C9, and C5b-9 neoantigens were screened for reactivity to the individual complement components in an assembled complex of human C5b-9 on rabbit red blood cell ghosts. Monoclonal antibodies (tissue culture supernatants) that bound to antigenic determinants accessible in the C5b-9 complex were selected for this study using immunofluorescence methods. HuK treated with PV IgG fixed C5, C6, C7, C8, C9, and C5b-9 neoantigens in a characteristic speckled pattern, while normal IgG did not. Heat inactivation or EDTA treatment of the complement source, or substitution of C2-depleted serum abolished C5, C6, C7, C8, C9, and C5b-9 neoantigen staining. PV IgG and complement also resulted in significant cytotoxicity to cell membranes as assessed using an ethidium bromide-fluorescein diacetate assay. These results suggest that PV IgG will activate the membrane attack complex of the complement system on HuK cell surfaces, resulting in cytotoxicity to cell membranes, further implicating complement in the pathogenesis of pemphigus.