Prothrombin is conformationally activated by von Willebrand factor-binding protein (vWbp) from Staphylococcus aureus through insertion of the NH(2)-terminal residues of vWbp into the prothrombin catalytic domain. The rate of prothrombin activation by vWbp(1-263) is controlled by a hysteretic kinetic mechanism initiated by substrate binding. The present study evaluates activation of prothrombin by full-length vWbp(1-474) through activity progress curve analysis. Additional interactions from the COOH-terminal half of vWbp(1-474) strengthened the initial binding of vWbp to prothrombin, resulting in higher activity and an ∼100-fold enhancement in affinity. The affinities of vWbp(1-263) or vWbp(1-474) were compared by equilibrium binding to the prothrombin derivatives prethrombin 1, prethrombin 2, thrombin, meizothrombin, and meizothrombin(des-fragment 1) and their corresponding active site-blocked analogs. Loss of fragment 1 in prethrombin 1 enhanced affinity for both vWbp(1-263) and vWbp(1-474), with a 30-45% increase in Gibbs free energy, implicating a regulatory role for fragment 1 in the activation mechanism. Active site labeling of all prothrombin derivatives with D-Phe-Pro-Arg-chloromethyl ketone, analogous to irreversible binding of a substrate, decreased their K(D) values for vWbp into the subnanomolar range, reflecting the dependence of the activating conformational change on substrate binding. The results suggest a role for prothrombin domains in the pathophysiological activation of prothrombin by vWbp, and may reveal a function for autocatalysis of the vWbp·prothrombin complexes during initiation of blood coagulation.