Interactions between standard heparin and the physiological anticoagulant plasma protein, activated protein C (APC) were studied. The ability of heparin to prolong the activated partial thromboplastin time and the factor Xa- one-stage clotting time of normal plasma was markedly enhanced by addition of purified APC to the assays. Experiments using purified clotting factors showed that heparin enhanced by fourfold the phospholipid-dependent inactivation of factor V by APC. In contrast to factor V, there was no effect of heparin on inactivation of thrombin-activated factor Va by APC. Based on SDS-PAGE analysis, heparin enhanced the rate of proteolysis of factor V but not factor Va by APC. Coagulation assays using immunodepleted plasmas showed that the enhancement of heparin action by APC was independent of antithrombin III, heparin cofactor II, and protein S. Experiments using purified proteins showed that heparin did not inhibit factor V activation by thrombin. In summary, heparin and APC showed significant anticoagulant synergy in plasma due to three mechanisms that simultaneously decreased thrombin generation by the prothrombinase complex. These mechanisms include: first, heparin enhancement of antithrombin III-dependent inhibition of factor V activation by thrombin; second, the inactivation of membrane-bound FVa by APC; and third, the proteolytic inactivation of membrane-bound factor V by APC, which is enhanced by heparin.