A 42-yr-old woman with systemic lupus erythematosus without bleeding diathesis developed a prolonged activated partial thromboplastin time that was not corrected by normal plasma. An inhibitor that acted rapidly and inactivated 0.5 U/ml plasma thromboplastin antecedent (PTA, factor XI) at a 1:200 plasma dilution was demonstrated. In addition to a low titer of PTA (less than 0.01 U/ml), plasma assayed at 20-fold dilution also showed low titers of Hageman (factor XII, 0.02 U/ml), Fletcher (plasma prekallikrein, 0.02 U/ml), and Fitzgerald (high molecular weight kininogen, less than 0.01 U/ml) factors. The titer of these factors, except PTA, returned to normal upon further plasma dilution or upon removal of the inhibitor by protein A adsorption. Thus, the inhibitor appeared to interfere with these clotting factor assays, possibly by inactivating PTA in the substrate plasmas in the test system. Its specificity was further confirmed. The inhibitor did not interfere with surface-induced proteolytic cleavage of Hageman factor. Surface-induced generation of plasma kallikrein activity (amidolysis of H-D-pro-phe-arg-pNa and cold-promoted factor VII activity enhancement) requires only Hageman, Fletcher, and Fitzgerald factors and was normal. Reactions requiring all 4 contact phase factors, including PTA, such as surface-induced generation of plasmin activity (amidolysis of H-D-val-leu-lys-pNa) and activated Christmas factor (factor IXa) activity, were defective. Furthermore, the inhibitor bound to agarose-protein A inactivated and removed PTA selectively from normal plasma. The inhibitor was an IgG-lambda autoantibody that precipitated PTA. The inactivated activated PTA (factor XIa) without the requirement for an additional cofactor. Furthermore, it inhibited surface-induced activation of PTA by interfering with its proteolytic cleavage upon glass surface exposure and with its binding onto the reactive surfaces.