Prothrombin (Pro) activation by factor Xa generates the thrombin catalytic site and exosites I and II. The role of fragment 1 (F1) in the pathway of exosite I expression during Pro activation was characterized in equilibrium binding studies using hirudin(54-65) labeled with 6-(N-(7-nitrobenz-2-oxa-1,3-diazol-4-yl)amino)hexanoate ([NBD]Hir(54-65)(SO3-)) or 5-(carboxy)fluorescein ([5F]Hir(54-65)(SO3-)). [NBD]Hir(54-65)(SO3-) distinguished exosite I environments on Pro, prethrombin 1 (Pre 1), and prethrombin 2 (Pre 2) but bound with the same affinities as [5F]Hir(54-65)(SO3-). Conversion of Pro to Pre 1 caused a 7-fold increase in affinity for the peptides. Conversely, fragment 1.2 (F1.2) decreased the affinity of Pre 2 for [5F]Hir(54-65)(SO3-) by 3-fold. This was correlated with a 16-fold increased affinity of F1.2 for Pre 2 in comparison to thrombin, demonstrating an enhancing effect of F1 on F1.2 binding. The active intermediate, meizothrombin, demonstrated a 50- to 220-fold increase in exosite affinity. Free thrombin and thrombin.F1.2 complex bound [5F]Hir(54-65)(SO3-) with indistinguishable affinity, indicating that the effect of F1 on peptide binding was eliminated upon expression of catalytic activity and exosite I. The results demonstrate a new zymogen-specific role for F1 in modulating the affinity of ligands for exosite I. This may reflect a direct interaction between the F1 and Pre 2 domains in Pro that is lost upon folding of the zymogen activation domain. The effect of F1 on (pro)exosite I and the role of (pro)exosite I in factor Va-dependent substrate recognition suggest that the Pro activation pathway may be regulated by (pro)exosite I interactions with factor Va.