The anticoagulant protein C system is a dual function cofactor-dependent system. On one hand, it is designed to regulate coagulation, maintain the fluidity of the vasculature and prevent thrombosis. On the other hand, the protein C pathway provides anti-inflammatory and cytoprotective activities. Protein C, a vitamin K-dependent serine protease zymogen that circulates in plasma, is converted by limited proteolysis to activated protein C (APC) by the thrombin-thrombomodulin-endothelial protein C receptor complex on endothelial surfaces. APC and the cofactors of the protein C pathway exert two major distinct types of activities, namely a well-studied anticoagulant activity and a more recently revealed cytoprotective activity due to direct effects on cells. Because of these pleiotropic properties, APC and the protein C pathway components have important roles in the body's host-defense system and provide opportunities for therapeutic treatment of complex and challenging medical disorders, including thrombosis, severe sepsis and stroke.