In vivo prothrombin activation is thought to occur via a factor Xa/factor V-dependent mechanism. We investigated whether human venous endothelial cells (EC) could be induced to express a prothrombin activator. EC treated with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) or interleukin-1 activated prothrombin in the absence of exogenous factors Xa and V. This activity resided in the membrane fraction of EC and was not inhibited by an antibody to factor V. The apparent Km value was 3.3 +/- 0.3 mumol/L. Comparative studies of thrombin generation using a model system of phospholipid and factors Xa/V versus LPS-treated EC were performed to quantitate the effects of known inhibitors to factor Xa. The factor Xa inhibitor DEGR-chloromethyl ketone and an antibody to factor X inhibited prothrombin activation. However, the EC activator did not hydrolyze a factor Xa chromogenic substrate, and recombinant tick anticoagulant peptide did not suppress activity of the prothrombin activator. The apparent molecular weight of the EC activator was approximately 30 kD. Exogenous factor V enhanced the activity of the EC activator, such that in the presence of factor V, the apparent K(m) value was 1.28 +/- 0.10 mumol/L. Additionally, LPS-treated EC activated exogenous factor V. This activator has several characteristics of a previously described inducible murine monocyte prothrombin activator and may contribute to thrombin generation associated with pathologic stimuli.