A study was carried out to explore requirements for the inhibition of tissue factor-factor VIIa enzymatic activity in plasma. Reaction mixtures contained plasma, 3H-factor IX or 3H-factor X, tissue factor (vol/vol 2.4% to 24%), and calcium. Tissue factor-factor VIIa activity was evaluated from progress curves of activation of factor IX or factor X, plotted from tritiated activation peptide release data. With normal plasma, progress curves exhibited initial limited activation followed by a plateau indicative of loss of tissue factor-factor VIIa activity. With hereditary factor X-deficient plasma treated with factor X antibodies, progress curves revealed full factor IX activation. Adding only 0.4 micrograms/mL factor X (final concentration) could restore inhibition. Inhibition was not observed in purified systems containing 6% to 24% tissue factor, factor VII, 0.5 micrograms/mL, factor IX, 13 micrograms/mL, and factor X up to 0.8 micrograms/mL, but could be induced by adding barium-absorbed plasma to the reaction mixture. Thus, both factor X and an additional material in plasma were required for inhibition. The amount of factor X needed appeared related to the concentration of tissue factor; adding more tissue factor at the plateau of a progress curve induced further activation. These results also indicate that inhibited reaction mixtures contained active free factor VII(a). Preliminary data suggest that inhibition may stem from loss of activity of the tissue factor component of the tissue factor- factor VII(a) complex.