During the past 20 years contributions from many laboratories have led to the development of isolation procedures, delineation of primary structures, and more recently, to the expression of recombinant proteins associated with the coagulation cascade. In general, studies of coagulation proteins under defined conditions have demonstrated the prescience of Davie and Ratnoff and MacFarlane in their proposals of the coagulation cascade. The more recent discovery of thrombomodulin by Esmon et al has led to the identification and characterization of components of the vitamin K-dependent anticoagulant pathway. In this review we have attempted to analyze and compare the functional properties of each of the vitamin K-dependent enzyme complexes associated with the procoagulant and anticoagulant phases of blood clotting. Although dissimilarities exist, the vitamin K-dependent complexes have analogous requirements and appear to function with a common general mode of organization. Membrane-bound cofactors serve as anchoring sites for the appropriate membrane-binding enzymes. This process localizes the complex on the membrane surface and increases the catalytic efficiency for substrate utilization. Complex formation provides extraordinary improvements in the catalytic efficiency for the complexes as compared with their soluble enzyme components. Membrane- bound complexes provide a mechanism that can be regulated at a site by membrane presentation, zymogen activation, and cofactor activation or presentation. The kinetic constants obtained for the various coagulation reactions determined in vitro provide some insights into how these pathways may function in vivo. The catalytic efficiency (kcat/Km) for factor X activation by factor VIIIa/factor IXa is far in excess of the catalytic efficiency of activation of factor X by tissue factor/factor VIIa (Table 3). This may provide a rational interpretation for the observation that patients with hemophilia A and B bleed even though they appear to have an alternative pathway to factor X activation. In addition, tissue factor is not ordinarily presented by the vascular tissue that has direct access to blood. However, it appears that extravascular constitutive tissue factor is available once the blood vessel becomes disrupted. The efforts to identify the initiating reactions of the blood coagulation process have not been unambiguously successful. We conclude that factor VII is most likely a zymogen, just as are the other proenzymes of the blood clotting process. In addition, it is difficult to rationalize the importance of the intrinsic pathway of coagulation involving factor XII, prekallikrein, and high molecular weight kininogen since the congenital absence of any one of these factors does not result in abnormal bleeding.