Plasmas from 16 patients that were found to be positive both for anticardiolipin antibodies (ACA) and lupus anticoagulants (LA) were incubated with liposomes that contained anionic phospholipids. In 11 of these plasmas, ACA could be cosedimented with the liposomes in a dose-dependent manner, whereas LA activity of the remaining supernatant was unaffected. LA activity of purified total IgG from 6 patients was measured in three different coagulation tests, using normal plasmas from different species. Prolongation of the aPTT, KCT and dRVV clotting times was observed only with normal plasma from human origin, not with bovine, rat or sheep plasma. Highly purified coagulation factors Xa, Va and prothrombin, both of human and bovine origin, were used to establish for two patient IgG's the effect of LA on the rate of thrombin formation in the presence and absence of lipid vesicles composed of 20 mole% phosphatidylserine and 80 mole% phosphatidylcholine. A strong and dose dependent inhibition by LA was observed only when human prothrombin was used as substrate in the prothrombinase complex in the presence of lipids. No inhibition was found when bovine prothrombin was used as substrate. The inhibitory effect observed in the presence of human prothrombin was independent of the source of factors Xa and Va, and was not found in the absence of lipid. Preliminary binding studies suggest that LA only associate with a lipid surface, provided that human prothrombin and calcium ions are present. These data indicate that LA are not directed to phospholipids alone, but presumably recognize an epitope which becomes exposed upon Ca(2+)-mediated binding of human prothrombin to phospholipids.