The role of endothelium in the inhibition of human factor Xa was studied in a plasma environment. Human factor Xa can bind to and function on bovine aortic endothelium in a manner similar to that of bovine factor Xa. Approximately 70% of the bound factor Xa is subject to inhibition by plasma proteinase inhibitors, and the remaining 30% is irreversibly bound as part of a 125 Kd membrane-associated complex not subject to proteolytic degradation. The proportion reversibly bound and its rate of release do not alter with changes in calcium, citrate, heparin, or active proteinase inhibitor concentrations. The principal plasma proteinase inhibitor of human factor Xa was antithrombin III, which accounted for 60% to 65% of factor Xa released from endothelium, with alpha 1-proteinase inhibitor inactivating 20% to 25% and alpha 2- macroglobulin approximately 15%. All of the reversibly bound factor Xa was identified in complex with one of these three proteinase inhibitors. The thrombin active-site inhibitor hirudin was found to markedly accelerate the displacement of reversibly bound factor Xa from the endothelium and to associate specifically with factor Xa without a loss of activity toward chromogenic substrates, perhaps accounting for a novel mechanism of anticoagulation.