Amidolytic assays have been developed to determine factor XIIa, factor XIa and plasma kallikrein in mixtures containing variable amounts of each enzyme. The commercially available chromogenic p-nitroanilide substrates Pro-Phe-Arg-NH-Np (S2302 or chromozym PK), Glp-Pro-Arg-NH-Np (S2366), Ile-Glu-(piperidyl)-Gly-Arg-NH-Np (S2337), and Ile-Glu-Gly-Arg-NH-Np (S2222) were tested for their suitability as substrates in these assays. The kinetic parameters for the conversion of S2302, S2222, S2337 and S2366 by beta factor XIIa, factor XIa and plasma kallikrein indicate that each active enzyme exhibits considerable activity towards a number of these substrates. This precludes direct quantification of the individual enzymes when large amounts of other activated contact factors are present. Several serine protease inhibitors have been tested for their ability to inhibit those contact factors selectively that may interfere with the factor tested for. Soybean trypsin inhibitor very efficiently inhibited kallikrein, inhibited factor XIa at moderate concentrations, but did not affect the amidolytic activity of factor XIIa. Therefore, this inhibitor can be used to abolish a kallikrein and factor XIa contribution in a factor XIIa assay. We also report the rate constants of inhibition of contact activation factors by three different chloromethyl ketones. D-Phe-Pro-Arg-CH2Cl was moderately active against contact factors (k = 2.2 X 10(3) M-1 s-1 at pH 8.3) but showed no differences in specifity. D-Phe-Phe-Arg-CH2Cl was a very efficient inhibitor of plasma kallikrein (k = 1.2 X 10(5) M-1 s-1 at pH 8.3) whereas it slowly inhibited factor XIIa (k = 1.4 X 10(3) M-1 s-1) and factor XIa (k = 0.11 X 10(3) M-1 s-1). Also Dns-Glu-Gly-Arg-CH2Cl was more reactive towards kallikrein (k = 1.6 X 10(4) M-1 s-1) than towards factor XIIa (k = 4.6 X 10(2) M-1 s-1) and factor XIa (k = 0.6 X 10(2) M-1 s-1). Since Phe-Phe-Arg-CH2Cl is highly specific for plasma kallikrein it can be used in a factor XIa assay selectively to inhibit kallikrein. Based on the catalytic efficiencies of chromogenic substrate conversion and the inhibition characteristics of serine protease inhibitors and chloromethyl ketones we were able to develop quantitative assays for factor XIIa, factor XIa and kallikrein in mixtures of contact activation factors.