Tissue factor (TF) is an integral membrane glycoprotein which, as the receptor and essential cofactor for coagulation factors VII and VIIa (FVII and FVIIa, respectively), is the primary cellular activator of the coagulation protease cascade. Previous studies on the procoagulant activity of a variety of cell types (either lysed or in the intact state) have variously been interpreted as showing that TF is either stored intracellularly or is present in a cryptic form in the surface membrane. Using mAbs to TF, we have directly investigated the subcellular localization and functional activity of TF in lipopolysaccharide-stimulated blood monocytes and J82 bladder carcinoma cells. Blocking of surface TF of viable cells with inhibitory anti-TF mAbs abolished greater than 90% of TF activity of the intact cells as well as of lysed cells. Furthermore, quantitative analysis of the binding of FVII and anti-TF mAb to J82 cells demonstrated that all surface-expressed TF molecules were capable of binding the ligand, FVII. By immunoelectron microscopy, TF was present only in the surface membrane of monocytes and J82 cells, although the latter also contained apparently inactive TF antigen in multivesicular bodies. On the intact cell surface the catalytic activity of the TF-FVIIa complex was investigated and found to be markedly less relative to cell lysates. Membrane alterations that affect the cofactor activity of TF may be a means of regulating the extent of initiation of the coagulation protease cascade in various cellular settings.