Oxygen deprivation, as occurs during tissue ischemia, tips the natural anticoagulant/procoagulant balance of the endovascular wall to favor activation of coagulation. To investigate the effects of low ambient oxygen tension on the fibrinolytic system, mice were placed in a hypoxic environment with pO2 < 40 Torr. Plasma levels of plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1) antigen, detected by ELISA, increased in a time-dependent fashion after hypoxic exposure (increased as early as 4 h, P < 0.05 vs. normoxic controls), and were accompanied by an increase in plasma PAI-1 activity by 4 h (P < 0.05 vs. normoxic controls). Northern analysis of hypoxic murine lung demonstrated an increase in PAI-1 mRNA compared with normoxic controls; in contrast, transcripts for both tissue-type plasminogen activator (tPA) and urokinase-type plasminogen activator (uPA) decreased under hypoxic conditions. Immunocolocalization studies identified macrophages as the predominant source of increased PAI-1 within hypoxic lung. Using a transformed murine macrophage line, striking induction of PAI-1 transcripts occurred under hypoxic conditions, due to both increased de novo transcription as well as increased mRNA stability. Consistent with an important role of the fibrinolytic system in hypoxia-induced fibrin accumulation, PAI-1 +/+ mice exposed to hypoxia exhibited increased pulmonary fibrin deposition based upon a fibrin immunoblot, intravascular fibrin identified by immunostaining, and increased accumulation of 125I-fibrinogen/fibrin in hypoxic tissue. In contrast, mice deficient for the PAI-1 gene (PAI-1 -/-) similarly exposed to hypoxic conditions did not display increased fibrin accumulation compared with normoxic PAI-1 +/+ controls. Furthermore, homozygous null uPA (uPA -/-) and tPA (tPA -/-) mice subjected to oxygen deprivation showed increased fibrin deposition compared with wild-type controls. These studies identify enhanced expression of PAI-1 as an important mechanism suppressing fibrinolysis under conditions of low oxygen tension, a response which may be further amplified by decreased expression of plasminogen activators. Taken together, these data provide insight into an important potential role of macrophages and the fibrinolytic system in ischemia-induced thrombosis.