In these studies, a number of human cell lines including epithelial, neural, glial, and lymphoid cells infected with several strains of measles virus were found to be lysed upon incubation with fresh sera from humans containing antibody measles virus. In all instances, the cytolytic event was mediated by alternative complement (C) pathway without a significant contribution from classical pathway. In contrast, isolated measles virus in conjunction with antibody was found to selectively activate the classical C pathway. Measles antibodies of the IgG class, but not the IgA class, possessed cytolytic potential against cells infected with measles virus. Human IgG antibodies could directly activate the alternative C pathway. No defect was found in cytolytic measles antibody in sera or cerebrospinal fluid from patients with subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, nor was the alternative C pathway impaired in sera from these patients. Sera from newborn humans exhibited a functional alternative C pathway.