The plasma antithrombotic enzyme activated protein C (APC) has two major plasma inhibitors. One is heparin-dependent, has been characterized, and is known as protein C inhibitor. The second inhibitor was isolated based on its heparin-independent ability to inhibit and complex with APC. The purified inhibitor had the amino acid composition and NH2 terminus of alpha 1-antitrypsin and reacted with monoclonal antibodies to alpha 1-antitrypsin. The inhibitor was greater than 95% pure alpha 1-antitrypsin as judged by electroimmunoassay, inactivation of trypsin, and electrophoresis in two gel systems. To identify the second major plasma inhibitor of APC, immunoblot studies of enzyme-inhibitor complexes were made to compare APC addition to normal plasma and to plasma deficient in protein C inhibitor or alpha 1-antitrypsin. The results showed that alpha 1-antitrypsin is the second major plasma APC inhibitor. Given the association rate constant of alpha 1-antitrypsin for APC of 10 M-1 s-1 and its plasma concentration of approximately 40 microM, it accounts for approximately half of the heparin-independent APC inhibitory activity of plasma. Based on immunoblot analysis plasmas of 15 patients with intravascular coagulation contained APC-alpha 1-antitrypsin complexes suggesting that this inhibition reaction occurs in vivo. Thus, alpha 1-antitrypsin is a major physiologic inhibitor of APC.