We have purified factor VIII from a patient with moderately severe hemophilia A (FVIII, 4 U/dL; FVIII:Ag, 110 U/dL) and subjected the protein to Western blot analysis after time course activation with thrombin. The cross reacting material-positive (CRM+) FVIII has the normal distribution of heavy and light chains before thrombin activation, and, after incubation with the enzyme, appropriate cleavages are made at positions 740 and 1689. However, the normal thrombin cleavage at position 372 in the heavy chain of this molecule does not occur. This result is consistent with the demonstration in the patient's leukocyte DNA of a C to T transition in codon 372, leading to the substitution of a cysteine for an arginine residue at the heavy chain internal cleavage site. The severely impaired functional activity of this molecule confirms that the heavy chain of FVIII must be proteolysed in order to effect full cofactor activation in vivo. However, a threefold activation was detected when this protein was incubated with thrombin. No evidence of thrombin-mediated cleavage at position 336 in the heavy chain was detected, in contrast to the variant recombinant B domainless-molecule, FVIII 372-Ile, described by Pittman and Kaufman (Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 85:2429, 1988). Using gel permeation studies of the FVIII/von Willebrand factor (vWF) complex before and after thrombin activation, we have demonstrated that the 40 Kd A2 domain of wild type FVIII dissociates from vWF after cleavage by the enzyme. In contrast, incomplete dissociation was detected in the case of FVIII 372-Cys. We conclude that the functional defect in FVIII 372-Cys is a consequence of the resistance to proteolysis of the internal scissile bond in the heavy chain.