The antithrombotic action of thrombomodulin was studied in mice. Rat and mouse thrombomodulin were isolated from lung acetone powders, and anti-rat thrombomodulin antibodies were prepared in rabbits. The antibodies neutralized both mouse (Kd approximately 150 nM) and rat thrombomodulin (Kd approximately 50 nM). A role for thrombomodulin in vivo was shown in mice injected intravenously (IV) with thrombin. All mice injected with 15 U thrombin (bolus) died of thromboembolism (mean survival 55 minutes), whereas those injected with a lower dosage survived. Prior injection with anti-rat thrombomodulin (1.8 mg IgG/mouse) potentiated the lethal effects of subsequent thrombin, whereas injection of thrombomodulin (isolated from mouse lung) prior to thrombin prolonged survival in a thrombomodulin concentration-dependent manner. The protective effect of thrombomodulin persisted for 30 minutes but after one hour thrombin injection was as toxic as in control animals. The half life (t1/2) for plasma clearance of 125I- mouse lung thrombomodulin was nine minutes. The major site of clearance was the liver, although thrombomodulin accumulated in several organs ten minutes after injection. The mechanism by which antithrombomodulin antibodies potentiated the lethal effects of thrombin was studied by measuring the protein C activating cofactor activity on vena cava removed from animals injected with antibodies. Protein C activation was inhibited by antibodies, suggesting a role for activated protein C in prevention of lethal thromboembolism. We found no effect of antibodies on the clearance of thrombin from mouse plasma, suggesting that blockade of endothelial endocytosis of thrombin does not play a significant role in the effects of antibodies. These results indicate that thrombomodulin participates in the defense against thrombosis in vivo.