Mannose-binding lectin (MBL) activates complement through MBL-associated serine proteases (MASP). A deficiency in MBL due to mutations at exon 1 of the human MBL gene is reported to cause vulnerability to infection. We examined sera of known MBL genotype by gel filtration and assessed their elution patterns using an ELISA for MBL and identified two MBL forms, a high-molecular-mass form and a lower-molecular-mass form. By the identification of either or both forms in individual sera, three types of patterns emerged: type 1 consisted of a high-molecular form; type 2, of a low-molecular form; and type 3, of both forms. Types 1, 2 and 3 corresponded, respectively, to a wild type (A/A), a homozygous mutation at codon 54 (B/B) and their heterozygote (A/B). One exception was a heterozygous LXPA/LYPB phenotype that exhibited the type-2 pattern. Binding to mannan and MASP-1/3 occurred exclusively with the high-molecular form. An apparent MBL deficiency does not in fact representa deficiency in MBL molecules but rather the presence of circulating oligomeric mutant MBL with impaired function.