Tissue factor (TF) is a low molecular weight glycoprotein that initiates the clotting cascade and is considered to be a major regulator of coagulation, hemostasis, and thrombosis. TF is not expressed in the intima or media of normal adult blood vessels. Accordingly, it has been hypothesized that the initiation of intravascular coagulation may require the "induced" expression of TF in the vessel wall. We report that TF mRNA and protein are rapidly and markedly induced in early and late passaged vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC) by growth factors (serum, platelet-derived growth factor, epidermal growth factor), vasoactive agonists (angiotensin II), and a clotting factor (alpha-thrombin). The induction of TF mRNA by these agents is dependent upon mobilization of intracellular Ca2+ and is blocked by Ca2+ chelation. In contrast to other growth factor-responsive genes, such as KC and c-fos, downregulation of protein kinase C activity by prolonged treatment with phorbol esters fails to block agonist-mediated TF induction. This raises the possibility that protein kinase C activation may not be necessary for TF mRNA induction in VSMC. VSMC may play a role in the generation or propagation of thrombus through the induction of TF, particularly in settings, such as those associated with acute vessel injury, where the endothelium is denuded and the VSMC are exposed to circulating blood.