C3 nephritic factor (C3NeF) was used to assess the formation of the fluid-phase amplification convertase, C3b,Bb, in 37 serum specimens from 24 patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). C3b,Bb formation was measured by the concentration of Ba, released when C3b,B is activated. Incubation of normal human serum (NHS) with C3NeF accelerates C3b amplification loop turnover with the formation of large quantities of C3b,Bb. In contrast, sera from 22 of 24 patients with SLE formed little or no convertase when incubated with C3NeF. C3 conversion to C3b was commensurately reduced. The inhibition could not be attributed to depressed serum concentrations of C3, factor B, or classical pathway components. Inhibitor present in excess could be demonstrated in 23 of 34 specimens of SLE serum by mixing experiments. The spontaneous convertase formation that occurs when a portion of the serum H is inactivated with F(ab')2 anti-H was also shown to be inhibited in SLE serum. The inhibition was found, however, to be H dependent in that convertase formation was normal in SLE serum depleted of H. It is concluded that the C3b in most SLE sera is unusually susceptible to inactivation by H, but a functional abnormality was not demonstrable in either C3 or H isolated from SLE serum. The inhibition could be simulated in NHS by addition of heparin, 100 micrograms/ml. In vivo, inhibition of convertase formation could interfere with the solubilization and disposal of immune complexes by reducing the deposition of C3b on the immune complex lattice.