Activated protein C (APC) exerts its physiologic anticoagulant role by proteolytic inactivation of the blood coagulation cofactors Va and VIIIa. To identify the regions on the surface that mediate anticoagulant activity, 26 synthetic peptides were prepared representing 90% of the human protein C heavy chain primary structure and tested for their ability to inhibit APC anticoagulant activity. Peptide-(390-404) specifically inhibited APC activity in activated partial thromboplastin time and Xa-1-stage coagulation assays in normal, in protein S-depleted and Factor VIII-deficient plasma with 50% inhibition at 5 microM peptide. Polyclonal antibodies raised against this peptide and immunoaffinity-purified on a protein C-Sepharose column inhibited APC anticoagulant activity in activated partial thromboplastin time and Xa-1-stage assays in normal, protein S-depleted, and Factor VIII-deficient plasma with half-maximal inhibition at 30 nM anti-(390-404) antibody. Neither the peptide-(390-404) nor the anti-(390-404) antibodies inhibited APC amidolytic activity or the reaction of APC with recombinant [Arg358] alpha 1-antitrypsin. Furthermore, in a purified system, peptide-(390-404) inhibited APC-catalyzed inactivation of Factor Va in the presence as well as in the absence of phospholipids with 50% inhibition at 4 microM peptide. These data suggest that the region containing residues 390-404 in APC is essential for anticoagulant activity and is available to interact with antibodies or with other proteins such as the macromolecular substrates Factors Va or VIIIa.