Fibrin(ogen) (FGN) is important for hemostasis and wound healing and is cleared from sites of injury primarily by the plasminogen activator system. However, there is emerging evidence in plasminogen activator- deficient transgenic mice that nonplasmin pathways may be important in fibrin(ogen)olysis, as well. Given the proximity of FGN and monocytes within the occlusive thrombus at sites of vascular injury, we considered the possibility that monocytes may play an ancillary role in the degradation and clearance of fibrin. We found that monocytes possess an alternative fibrinolytic pathway that uses the integrin Mac- 1, which directly binds and internalizes FGN, resulting in its lysosomal degradation. At 4 degrees C, FGN binds to U937 monocytoid cells in a specific and saturable manner with a kd of 1.8 mumol/L. Binding requires adenosine diphosphate stimulation and is calcium- dependent. At 37 degrees C, FGN and fibrin monomer (FM) are internalized and degraded at rates of 0.37 +/- 0.13 and 0.55 +/- 0.03 microgram/10(6) cells/h by U937 cells, 1.38 +/- 0.02 and 1.20 +/- 0.30 microgram/10(6) cells/h by THP-1 cells, and 2.10 +/- 0.20 and 2.52 +/- 0.18 micrograms/10(6) cells/h by human peripheral blood mononuclear cells, respectively. The serine protease inhibitors, PPACK and aprotinin, and the specific elastase inhibitor, AAPVCK, do not significantly inhibit degradation. However, degradation is inhibited by chloroquine, suggesting that a lysosomal pathway is involved. Factor X, a competitive ligand with FGN for the Mac-1 receptor, also blocks degradation, as does a monoclonal antibody to the alpha-subunit of Mac- 1. Autoradiography of radioiodinated, internalized FGN shows that FGN proteolysis by the pathway produces a unique degradation pattern distinct from that observed with plasmin. In a fibrin clot lysis assay, Mac-1-mediated fibrinolysis contributed significantly to total fibrinolysis. In summary, FGN is internalized and degraded by activated human monocytoid cells via Mac-1 in the absence of plasmin, thereby providing an alternative fibrinolytic pathway. Thus, in addition to the function of cell adhesion, integrins may also act as receptors that mediate the internalization and degradation of bound ligands.