We previously showed that the alpha-thrombin-antithrombin III complex causes antigenic change in vitronectin as monitored by the monoclonal anti-vitronectin antibody 8E6 (Tomasini & Mosher, 1988). We have extended these studies to other protease-serpin complexes and to gamma-thrombin, a proteolytic derivative of alpha-thrombin. In the presence of heparin, recognition of vitronectin by 8E6 was increased 64- or 52-fold by interaction with the complex of alpha-thrombin and heparin cofactor II or the Pittsburgh mutant (Met358----Arg) of alpha 1-protease inhibitor, respectively. This was comparable to the value obtained with the alpha-thrombin-antithrombin III complex. Factor Xa-serpin complexes were approximately 4-fold less effective than the corresponding thrombin complexes. alpha-Thrombin-serpin complexes but not Xa-serpin complexes formed disulfide-bonded complexes with vitronectin. Antigenic changes and disulfide-bonded complexes were not detected when trypsin- or chymotrypsin-serpin complexes were incubated with vitronectin. gamma-Thrombin caused 7- and 34-fold increases in recognition of vitronectin by MaVN 8E6 in the absence and presence of heparin, respectively. In contrast, alpha-thrombin by itself had no effect. The antigenic change induced by gamma-thrombin was maximal when gamma-thrombin and vitronectin were equimolar, was not dependent on cleavage of vitronectin, and was abolished by inhibition of gamma-thrombin with Phe-Pro-Arg-chloromethyl ketone but not with diisopropyl fluorophosphate. These data indicate that alpha-thrombin is the component in alpha-thrombin-serpin complexes that induces the antigenic change in vitronectin, probably via a region that is preferentially exposed in gamma-thrombin.