The effect of glucosylceramide (GlcCer) on activated protein C (APC)-phospholipid interactions was examined using fluorescence resonance energy transfer. Human APC, labeled with either fluorescein (Fl-APC) or dansyl (DEGR-APC) donor, bound to phosphatidylcholine/phosphatidylserine (PC/PS, 9:1 w/w) vesicles containing octadecylrhodamine (OR) acceptor with a K(d) (app) = 16 micro g/ml, whereas Fl-APC (or DEGR-APC) bound to PC/PS/GlcCer(OR) (8:1:1) vesicles with a K(d) (app) = 3 micro g/ml. This 5-fold increase in apparent affinity was not species-specific since bovine DEGR-APC also showed a similar GlcCer-dependent enhancement of binding of APC to PC/PS vesicles. From the efficiency of fluorescence resonance energy transfer, distances of closest approach of approximately 63 and approximately 64 A were estimated between the dansyl on DEGR-APC and rhodamine in PC/PS/GlcCer(OR) and PC/PS(OR), respectively, assuming kappa(2) = 2/3. DEGR-APC bound to short chain C8-GlcCer with an apparent K(d) of 460 nm. The presence of C8-GlcCer selectively enhanced the binding of C16,6-NBD-phosphatidylserine but not C16,6-7-nitrobenz-2-oxa-1,3-diazole (NBD)-phosphatidylcholine to coumarin-labeled APC. These data suggest that APC binds to GlcCer, that PC/PS/GlcCer vesicles like PC/PS vesicles bind to the N-terminal gamma-carboxyglutamic acid domain of APC, and that one mechanism by which GlcCer enhances the activity of APC is by increasing its affinity for membrane surfaces containing negatively charged phospholipids.