The mechanism of effect of high-dose intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) therapy in immune cytopenias is incompletely known. One of the leading theories ascribes the short-term effects of IVIG to the competition of infused IVIG for Fc receptors, thereby inhibiting IgG-mediated clearance. Using a system independent of IgG-Fc receptor interactions, we examined another potential mechanism of IVIG action. Guinea pigs were infused with a human IVIG preparation at 600 mg/kg/day for two consecutive days. Parallel groups of animals were treated with the same volume and/or concentration of saline and albumin. Clearance of IgM-sensitized guinea pig erythrocytes, which is wholly complement dependent, was significantly retarded in animals treated with high-dose IVIG. The effect was specific for IVIG, since human albumin (as a second foreign protein) failed to change the clearance of IgM-sensitized guinea pig erythrocytes. Experiments in which IVIG-treated animals were subjected to pre- and posttreatment clearance studies revealed heterogeneity among individual animals in respect to their response to IVIG infusions. Decrease of available plasma complement components did not account for the effect, since both C3 and CH50values remained unchanged after IVIG treatment, despite rising levels of IVIG in sera of treated animals. The results of in vitro C3 uptake studies and the effect of IVIG on clearance of preopsonized cells suggest that IVIG produces a kinetic depression of C3 uptake and modifies the process of complement fragment deposition on erythrocytes. A generalized effect on mononuclear phagocytes is less likely but cannot be wholly ruled out. These studies establish another potential mechanism of IVIG action and suggest extension of its use to other complement-mediated diseases.