An umbilical vein model was designed in which washed vein segments are filled with a reaction mixture containing factor VIIa, Ca(+)+, and a substrate, either 3H-factor IX or 3H-factor X. The vein wall provides the tissue factor (TF) for factor VIIa/TF complexes that activate the substrates as measured by activation peptide release. The model was developed to study TF induced on venous endothelium in situ. However, unlike previous studies with TF expressed on cultured umbilical vein endothelial cells, factors IX and X were activated without first having to expose the vein wall to a perturbing stimulus. Histologic studies revealed that washing the vein and mixing the reaction mixture before subsampling had disrupted the endothelium. Immunostaining with anti-TF antibodies revealed no staining of endothelium but intense staining in extensions of Wharton's jelly penetrating fenestrations of the muscularis media of the vein. Thus, the model provided data on factor VIIa/TF formed, not on endothelium, but within the mucoid connective tissue of Wharton's jelly. It is known that factor VIIa/TF formed with TF in suspension or with TF expressed on the surface of cultured cells activates factor X more rapidly than factor IX. In contrast, in the umbilical vein model, when each substrate was present in an 88 nmol/L concentration, factors IX and X were activated at equivalent rates (mean activation rate for factor IX, 18.8 +/- 3.6 nmol/L/h; for factor X, 17.8 +/- 2.9 nmol/L/h; n = 9 paired vein segments). These data strengthen the evidence that factor VIIa/TF activation of factor IX represents a key initial reaction of coagulation in tissues. These results also show that data obtained with factor VIIa/TF complexes formed on the surface of cultured cells need not hold for factor VIIa/TF complexes formed in extracellular matrix.