Mononuclear phagocytes, stimulated by bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS), have been implicated in the activation of coagulation in sepsis and endotoxemia. In monocytes LPS induces the synthesis of tissue factor (TF) which, assembled with factor VII, initiates the blood coagulation cascades. In this study we investigated the mechanism of LPS recognition by monocytes, and the consequent expression of TF mRNA and TF activity. We also studied the inhibition of these effects of LPS by rBPI23, a 23-kD recombinant fragment of bactericidal/permeability increasing protein, which has been shown to antagonize LPS in vitro and in vivo. Human peripheral blood mononuclear cells, or monocytes isolated by adherence, were stimulated with Escherichia coli O113 LPS at physiologically relevant concentrations (> or = 10 pg/mL). The effect of LPS was dependent on the presence of the serum protein LBP (lipopolysaccharide-binding protein), as shown by the potentiating effect of human recombinant LBP or serum. Furthermore, recognition of low amounts of LPS by monocytes was also dependent on CD14 receptors, because monoclonal antibodies against CD14 greatly reduced the LPS sensitivity of monocytes in the presence of serum or rLBP. Induction of TF activity and mRNA expression by LPS were inhibited by rBPI23. The expression of tumor necrosis factor showed qualitatively similar changes. Considering the involvement of LPS-induced TF in the potentially lethal intravascular coagulation in sepsis, inhibition of TF induction by rBPI23 may be of therapeutic benefit.