Thrombin activity propagates in space during blood coagulation as an excitation wave

Biophys J. 2012 Nov 21;103(10):2233-40. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2012.10.011. Epub 2012 Nov 20.


Injury-induced bleeding is stopped by a hemostatic plug formation that is controlled by a complex nonlinear and spatially heterogeneous biochemical network of proteolytic enzymes called blood coagulation. We studied spatial dynamics of thrombin, the central enzyme of this network, by developing a fluorogenic substrate-based method for time- and space-resolved imaging of thrombin enzymatic activity. Clotting stimulation by immobilized tissue factor induced localized thrombin activity impulse that propagated in space and possessed all characteristic traits of a traveling excitation wave: constant spatial velocity, constant amplitude, and insensitivity to the initial stimulation once it exceeded activation threshold. The parameters of this traveling wave were controlled by the availability of phospholipids or platelets, and the wave did not form in plasmas from hemophilia A or C patients who lack factors VIII and XI, which are mediators of the two principal positive feedbacks of coagulation. Stimulation of the negative feedback of the protein C pathway with thrombomodulin produced nonstationary patterns of wave formation followed by deceleration and annihilation. This indicates that blood can function as an excitable medium that conducts traveling waves of coagulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Blood Coagulation*
  • Feedback, Physiological
  • Fibrin / metabolism
  • Hemostasis
  • Humans
  • Protein C / metabolism
  • Rabbits
  • Thrombin / metabolism*
  • Thrombomodulin / metabolism


  • Protein C
  • Thrombomodulin
  • Fibrin
  • Thrombin