Endothelial cells expose specific receptors for blood clotting factors and, upon perturbation, can initiate and propagate the reactions of the extrinsic pathway of blood coagulation leading to fibrin formation on the cell surface. The existence of an intrinsic mechanism of Factor IX activation on cultured human umbilical vein cells (HUVECs) was investigated by studies of the interaction between HUVECs and two proteins of the contact activation system, the cofactor high molecular weight kininogen (H-kininogen) and the zymogen Factor XI. In the presence of zinc ions (10-300 microM), 125I-labeled H-kininogen bound to HUVECs in a time-dependent, reversible, and saturable manner, with calcium ions exerting an inhibitory effect on the zinc-dependent binding. Analysis of the binding data by the LIGAND computer program indicated that HUVECs, in the presence of 2 mM CaCl2 and 100 microM ZnCl2 at 37 degrees C, bound 1.14 x 10(7) H-kininogen molecules per cell with an apparent dissociation constant of 55 nM. HUVEC-bound H-kininogen functions as the cell surface receptor for both 125I-labeled Factor XI and 125I-labeled Factor XIa, since HUVECs cultured in contact factor-depleted serum do not detectably bind either the zymogen or the enzyme in the absence of H-kininogen and zinc ions. In the presence of saturating concentrations of H-kininogen, 2 mM CaCl2 and 100 microM ZnCl2, the binding of 125I-labeled Factor XI and Factor XIa to HUVECs was time-dependent, reversible, and saturable, with apparent dissociation constants of 4.5 and 1.5 nM, respectively. HUVEC-bound complexes of H-kininogen and Factor XI generated Factor XIa activity only after the addition of purified Factor XIIa, and cell-bound Factor XIa in turn activated Factor IX, as documented by a 3H-labeled activation peptide release assay for 3H-Factor IX activation. The results indicate that cultured HUVECs provide a surface for the assembly and expression of an intrinsic Factor IX activator complex that may participate in the initiation of blood coagulation at sites of vascular injury.