Human complement factor H controls spontaneous activation of complement in plasma and appears to play a role in distinguishing host cells from activators of the alternative pathway of complement. In both mice and humans, the protein is composed of 20 homologous short consensus repeat (SCR) domains. The size of the protein suggests that portions of the structure outside the known C3b binding site (SCR 1-4) possess a significant biological role. We have expressed the full-length cDNA of factor H in the baculovirus system and have shown the recombinant protein to be fully active. Mutants of this full-length protein have now been prepared, purified, and examined for cofactor activity and binding to C3b and heparin. The results demonstrate (i) that factor H has at least three sites that bind C3b, (ii) that one of these sites is located in SCR domains 1-4, as has been shown by others, (iii) that a second site exists in the domain 6-10 region, (iv) that a third site resides in the SCR 16-20 region, and (v) that two heparin binding sites exist in factor H, one near SCR 13 and another in the SCR 6-10 region. Functional assays demonstrated that only the first C3b site located in SCR 1-4 expresses factor I cofactor activity. Mutant proteins lacking any one of the three C3b binding sites exhibited 6- to 8-fold reductions in affinity for C3b on sheep erythrocytes, indicating that all three sites contribute to the control of complement activation on erythrocytes. The identification of multiple functionally distinct sites on factor H clarifies many of the heretofore unexplainable behaviors of this protein, including the heterogeneous binding of factor H to surface-bound C3b, the effects of trypsin cleavage, and the differential control of complement activation on activators and nonactivators of the alternative pathway of complement.