Tissue factor (TF) is the membrane-bound glycoprotein whose cofactor activity with factor VIIa causes activation of the extrinsic pathway of coagulation. The transition of endothelium to a procoagulant state by agents such as bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS) is the result of TF expression by these cells. The mechanism of TF induction in human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) was investigated in response to LPS and phorbol 12-myristate 13-O-acetate (PMA). Northern blot analysis of total RNA from HUVEC showed a rapid rise in TF mRNA levels which was maximal at 2 h and had fallen to low levels by 6 h following both LPS (10 micrograms/ml) and PMA (10 ng/ml) stimulation. Nuclear-run on experiments showed at most a 2-fold increase in transcription of the TF gene following LPS stimulation but a 10-fold increase following PMA stimulation. In addition 24-h pre-incubation with PMA desensitized HUVEC to further PMA exposure, but caused no alteration in the response to LPS. Cycloheximide (10 micrograms/ml) alone caused induction of TF mRNA. Treatment of cells previously exposed to LPS for 1 or 4 h with actinomycin D indicated a 12-fold difference in the TF mRNA half-life. Therefore the rapid accumulation of TF mRNA in HUVEC stimulated by LPS is largely a result of an increase in mRNA stability rather than an increased rate of transcription of the gene.