Coagulation factor XI is activated in vitro by factor XIIa in the presence of high molecular weight kininogen (HMWK) and a negatively charged surface. Factor XII deficiency is not associated with bleeding, which suggests that another mechanism for factor XI activation exists in vivo. A revised model of coagulation is proposed in which factor XI is activated by thrombin. In the absence of cofactors, thrombin is more effective (kcat/Km = 1.6 x 10(5)) than factor XIIa (1.7 x 10(4)) in activating factor XI. Dextran sulfate enhances activation of factor XI by thrombin 2000-fold; part of this effect is due to autoactivation of factor XI by activated factor XI.