Inflammation and immunity may be associated with endothelial cell (EC) injury and thrombus formation. We explored the mechanisms through which a humoral immune response directed against the endothelium might promote coagulation. Using the interaction of anti-EC antibodies and complement (C) with cultured EC as a model, we studied the expression and function of tissue factor, a cofactor for factor VIIa-mediated conversion of factor X to Xa. Exposure of EC to anti-EC antibodies and C in sublytic amounts stimulated the synthesis of tissue factor over a period of 16-42 h. Cell surface expression of tissue factor activity required activation of C and assembly of the membrane attack complex, because expression was inhibited by soluble CR1 and was not detected in the absence of C8. Elaboration of tissue factor messenger RNA was observed over a period of 8-30 h and required protein synthesis. Expression of tissue factor was not a direct consequence of the action of C on the EC but was a secondary response that required as an intermediate step the release of interleukin 1 alpha, an early product of the EC response to C activation. These findings suggest that, after the assembly of membrane attack complex on EC, the production of tissue factor and initiation of coagulation in a blood vessel depend on the production of interleukin 1 alpha and on its availability to stimulate affected EC.