The protein C (PC) pathway plays important roles in the regulation of the coagulation system and inflammatory response. This study evaluated the degree of PC activation in the airway of patients with bronchial asthma (BA), and the expression and regulation of PC and its receptor in airway epithelial cell lines. Thirteen BA patients and 8 healthy volunteers were enrolled in the study. BEAS-2B and A549 epithelial cell lines were used in experimental assays. Expression of anticoagulant factors was evaluated by RT-PCR and Western blotting. The activated protein C (APC)/thrombin (1.65 +/- 0.35 vs 3.34 +/- 0.59) and APC/PC (8.30 +/- 2.26 vs 24.41 +/- 9.88) ratios were significantly decreased and the concentrations of soluble thrombomodulin (TM) were significantly increased in induced sputum from BA patients compared with healthy subjects. Airway epithelial cells express PC, its receptor, and TM. PC antigen prepared from epithelial cells was significantly activated in the presence of thrombin. Thrombin increased the expression of PC antigen from lung epithelial cells. However, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, eotaxin, and RANTES (regulated on activation, normal T-cell expressed and secreted) decreased the expression of PC and its receptor in bronchial epithelial cells. Overall, these results showed for the first time that reduced activation of PC pathway occurs in the airway of BA patients and that TM, PC, and its receptor, are expressed by human airway epithelial cells. The expression of these PC pathway components was found to be downregulated by inflammatory cytokines. The decrease in PC activation may contribute to exacerbation of the inflammatory response in the airway of asthmatic patients.