Factor XI is a plasma glycoprotein that is required for contact activation initiated fibrin formation in vitro and for normal hemostasis in vivo. In preparation for developing a mouse model of factor XI deficiency to facilitate investigations into this protease's contributions to coagulation, we cloned the complementary DNA for murine factor XI, expressed the protein in a mammalian expression system, and compared its properties with human recombinant factor XI. The 2.8-kb murine cDNA codes for a protein of 624 amino acids with 78% homology to human factor XI. Both recombinant murine and human factor XI are 160 kD homodimers comprised of two 80 kD polypeptides connected by disulfide bonds. Murine factor XI shortens the clotting time of human factor XI deficient plasma in an activated partial thromboplastin time assay, with a specific activity 50% to 70% that of the human protein. In a purified system, murine factor XI is activated by human factor XIIa and thrombin in the presence of dextran sulfate. Murine factor XI differs from human factor XI in that it undergoes autoactivation slowly in the presence of dextran sulfate. This is due primarily to murine factor XIa preferentially cleaving a site on zymogen factor XI within the light chain, rather than the activation site between Arg371 and Val372. Northern blots of polyadenylated messenger RNA show that murine factor XI message is expressed, as expected, primarily in the liver. In contrast, messenger RNA for human factor XI was identified in liver, pancreas, and kidney. The studies show that murine and human factor XI have similar structural and enzymatic properties. However, there may be variations in tissue specific expression and subtle differences in enzyme activity across species.