Rabbit Hageman factor was proteolytically cleaved and activated by a homogenate prepared from cultured rabbit endothelial cells. Cleavage of radiolabeled Hageman factor was monitored by polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis in the presence of sodium dodecyl sulfate. Endothelial cell-mediated cleavage of Hageman factor was demonstrated both in a purified system and in plasma, was time and concentration dependent, and was associated with formation of the characteristic 28,000 M(r) form of active Hageman factor. The rate of cleavage of Hageman factor was not affected by Triton X-100 (Rohm and Haas, Co., Philadelphia, Pa.), hexadimethrine bromide (Polybrene, Aldrich Chemical Co., Inc., Milwaukee, Wis.), hirudin, soybean trypsin inhibitor, or antisera to plasminogen or prekallikrein. However, cleavage was enhanced by kaolin, and was inhibited by diisopropyl-fluorophosphate. The enzyme responsible for cleavage of Hageman factor was localized to the 100,000-g-sedimentable, subcellular fraction of the endothelial cell homogenate and was relatively specific, because neither radiolabeled rabbit Factor XI nor rabbit prekallikrein were themselves proteolytically cleaved by the endothelial cell homogenate. However, when these molecules were incubated with the homogenate in the presence of Hageman factor, both Factor XI and prekallikrein were cleaved, demonstrating that Hageman factor had been activated by the endothelial cell homogenate. Furthermore, the kallikrein generated by endothelial cell homogenate-activated Hageman factor was capable of liberating kinin from high molecular weight kininogen as measured by bioassay. Cultured rabbit endothelial cells, therefore, possess the capacity to activate Hageman factor by proteolysis. This may be one mechanism for Hageman factor activation in vivo.