Protein C is a vitamin K-dependent plasma serine protease zymogen, which upon activation, functions as an anticoagulant. Protein C activation is catalyzed by a complex of thrombin (T) with thrombomodulin (TM). This activation is Ca(2+)-dependent, but Ca2+ inhibits protein C activation by thrombin alone. In most proteases, specificity is determined primarily by the residues that lie near the scissile bond. In protein C, the P2 position is Pro, whereas in the fibrinogen A chain, P2 is Val. We have expressed a Pro-->Val mutant of protein C (P168V) in mammalian cells. At saturating Ca2+, the P168V and wild-type proteins were activated by the T-TM complex equivalently, but half maximal rates of activation were obtained at 50 mumol/L Ca2+ for wild type and approximately 5 mmol/L Ca2+ for the P168V mutant. In the absence of TM, Ca2+ no longer inhibited the activation of the P168V mutant. These results indicate that Pro168 influences the Ca(2+)- dependent conformational changes in protein C that control activation. Recently, a patient with thrombotic complications has been identified with a Pro168-->Leu substitution. Both the P168V and the P168L mutation lead to impaired secretion caused by retention within the cell.