Protein C is a vitamin K-dependent protein, which exists in bovine plasma as a precursor of a serine protease. In this study, protein C was isolated to homogeneity from human plasma by barium citrate adsorption and elution, ammonium sulfate fractionation, DEAE-Sephadex chromatography, dextran sulfate agarose chromatography, and preparative polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. Human protein C (M(r) = 62,000) contains 23% carbohydrate and is composed of a light chain (M(r) = 21,000) and a heavy chain (M(r) = 41,000) held together by a disulfide bond(s). The light chain has an amino-terminal sequence of Ala-Asn-Ser-Phe-Leu- and the heavy chain has an aminoterminal sequence of Asp-Pro-Glu-Asp-Gln. The residues that are identical to bovine protein C are underlined. Incubation of human protein C with human alpha-thrombin at an enzyme to substrate weight ratio of 1:50 resulted in the formation of activated protein C, an enzyme with serine amidase activity. In the activation reaction, the apparent molecular weight of the heavy chain decreased from 41,000 to 40,000 as determined by gel electrophoresis in the presence of sodium dodecyl sulfate. No apparent change in the molecular weight of the light chain was observed in the activation process. The heavy chain of human activated protein C also contains the active-site serine residue as evidenced by its ability to react with radiolabeled diisopropyl fluorophosphate. Human activated protein C markedly prolongs the kaolin-cephalin clotting time of human plasma, but not that of bovine plasma. The amidolytic and anticoagulant activities of human activated protein C were completely obviated by prior incubation of the enzyme with diisopropyl fluorophosphate. These results indicate that human protein C, like its bovine counterpart, exists in plasma as a zymogen and is converted to a serine protease by limited proteolysis with attendant anticoagulant activity.