Protein Z-dependent protease inhibitor (ZPI) is a 72-kd member of the serpin superfamily of proteinase inhibitors that produces rapid inhibition of factor Xa in the presence of protein Z (PZ), procoagulant phospholipids, and Ca(++) (t(1/2) less than 10 seconds). The rate of factor Xa inhibition by ZPI is reduced more than 1000-fold in the absence of PZ. The factor Xa-ZPI complex is not stable to sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, but is detectable by alkaline-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. The combination of PZ and ZPI dramatically delays the initiation and reduces the ultimate rate of thrombin generation in mixtures containing prothrombin, factor V, phospholipids, and Ca(++). In similar mixtures containing factor Va, however, PZ and ZPI do not inhibit thrombin generation. Thus, the major effect of PZ and ZPI is to dampen the coagulation response prior to the formation of the prothrombinase complex. Besides factor Xa, ZPI also inhibits factor XIa in the absence of PZ, phospholipids, and Ca(++). Heparin (0.2 U/mL) enhances the rate (t(1/2) = 25 seconds vs 50 seconds) and the extent (99% vs 93% at 30 minutes) of factor XIa inhibition by ZPI. During its inhibitory interaction with factor Xa and factor XIa, ZPI is proteolytically cleaved with the release of a 4.2-kd peptide. The N-terminal amino acid sequence of this peptide (SMPPVIKVDRPF) establishes Y387 as the P(1) residue at the reactive center of ZPI. ZPI activity is consumed during the in vitro coagulation of plasma through a proteolytic process that involves the actions of factor Xa with PZ and factor XIa.