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Coagulation is a complex process by which blood forms solid clots. It is an important part of hemostasis (the cessation of blood loss from a damaged vessel) whereby a damaged blood vessel wall is covered by a platelet- and fibrin-containing clot to stop bleeding and begin repair of the damaged vessel. Disorders of coagulation can lead to an increased risk of bleeding and/or clotting and embolism.

Coagulation is highly conserved throughout biology; in all mammals, coagulation involves both a cellular (platelet) and a protein (coagulation factor) component. The system in humans has been the most extensively researched and therefore is the best understood.

Coagulation is initiated almost instantly after an injury to the blood vessel damages the endothelium (lining of the vessel). Platelets immediately form a hemostatic plug at the site of injury; this is called primary hemostasis. Secondary hemostasis occurs simultaneously—proteins in the blood plasma, called coagulation factors, respond in a complex cascade to form fibrin strands which strengthen the platelet plug.[1]



Platelet activation

Damage to blood vessel walls exposes collagen normally present under the endothelium. Circulating platelets bind to the collagen with the surface collagen-specific glycoprotein Ia/IIa receptor. This adhesion is strengthened further by the large multimeric circulating protein von Willebrand factor (vWF), which forms links between the platelet glycoprotein Ib/IX/V and collagen fibrils.

The platelets are then activated and release the contents of their granules into the plasma, in turn activating other platelets. The platelets undergo a change in their shape which exposes a phospholipid surface for those coagulation factors that require it. Fibrinogen links adjacent platelets by forming links via the glycoprotein IIb/IIIa. In addition, thrombin activates platelets.

The coagulation cascade

  The coagulation cascade of secondary hemostasis has two pathways, the Contact Activation pathway (formerly known as the Intrinsic Pathway) and the Tissue Factor pathway (formerly known as the Extrinsic pathway) that lead to fibrin formation. It was previously thought that the coagulation cascade consisted of two pathways of equal importance joined to a common pathway. It is now known that the primary pathway for the initiation of blood coagulation is the Tissue Factor pathway. The pathways are a series of reactions, in which a zymogen (inactive enzyme precursor) of a serine protease and its glycoprotein co-factor are activated to become active components that then catalyze the next reaction in the cascade, ultimately resulting in cross-linked fibrin. Coagulation factors are generally indicated by Roman numerals, with a lowercase a appended to indicate an active form.

The coagulation factors are generally serine proteases (enzymes). There are some exceptions. For example, FVIII and FV are glycoproteins and Factor XIII is a transglutaminase. Serine proteases act by cleaving other proteins at specific sites. The coagulation factors circulate as inactive zymogens.

The coagulation cascade is classically divided into three pathways. The tissue factor and contact activation pathways both activate the "final common pathway" of factor X, thrombin and fibrin.

Tissue factor pathway

The main role of the tissue factor pathway is to generate a "thrombin burst," a process by which thrombin, the single most important constituent of the coagulation cascade in terms of its feedback activation roles, is released instantaneously. FVIIa circulates in a higher amount than any other activated coagulation factor.

  • Following damage to the blood vessel, endothelium Tissue Factor (TF) is released, forming a complex with FVII and in so doing, activating it (TF-FVIIa).
  • TF-FVIIa activates FIX and FX.
  • FVII is itself activated by thrombin, FXIa, plasmin, FXII and FXa.
  • The activation of FXa by TF-FVIIa is almost immediately inhibited by tissue factor pathway inhibitor (TFPI).
  • FXa and its co-factor FVa form the prothrombinase complex which activates prothrombin to thrombin.
  • Thrombin then activates other components of the coagulation cascade, including FV and FVII (which activates FXI, which in turn activates FIX), and activates and releases FVIII from being bound to vWF.
  • FVIIIa is the co-factor of FIXa and together they form the "tenase" complex which activates FX and so the cycle continues. ("Tenase" is a contraction of "ten" and the suffix "-ase" used for enzymes.)

Contact activation pathway

There is formation of the primary complex on collagen by high-molecular weight kininogen (HMWK), prekallikrein, and FXII (Hageman factor). Prekallikrein is converted to kallikrein and FXII becomes FXIIa. FXIIa converts FXI into FXIa. Factor XIa activates FIX, which with its co-factor FVIIIa form the tenase complex, which activates FX to FXa. The minor role that the contact activation pathway has in initiating clot formation can be illustrated by the fact that patients with severe deficiencies of FXII, HMWK, and prekallikrein do not have a bleeding disorder.

Final common pathway

Thrombin has a large array of functions. Its primary role is the conversion of fibrinogen to fibrin, the building block of a hemostatic plug. In addition, it activates Factors VIII and V and their inhibitor protein C (in the presence of thrombomodulin), and it activates Factor XIII, which forms covalent bonds that crosslink the fibrin polymers that form from activated monomers.

Following activation by the contact factor or tissue factor pathways the coagulation cascade is maintained in a prothrombotic state by the continued activation of FVIII and FIX to form the tenase complex, until it is down-regulated by the anticoagulant pathways.


Various substances are required for the proper functioning of the coagulation cascade:

  • Calcium and phospholipid (a platelet membrane constituent) are required for the tenase and prothrombinase complexes to function. Calcium mediates the binding of the complexes via the terminal gamma-carboxy residues on FXa and FIXa to the phospholipid surfaces expressed by platelets as well as procoagulant microparticles or microvesicles shedded from them. Calcium is also required at other points in the coagulation cascade.
  • Vitamin K is an essential factor to a hepatic gamma-glutamyl carboxylase that adds a carboxyl group to glutamic acid residues on factors II, VII, IX and X, as well as Protein S, Protein C and Protein Z. Deficiency of vitamin K (e.g. in malabsorption), use of inhibiting anticoagulants (warfarin, acenocoumarol and phenprocoumon) or disease (hepatocellular carcinoma) impairs the function of the enzyme and leads to the formation of PIVKAs (proteins formed in vitamin K absence) this causes partial or non gamma carboxylation and affects the coagulation factors ability to bind to expressed phospholipid.


Three mechanisms keep the coagulation cascade in check. Abnormalities can lead to an increased tendency toward thrombosis:

  • Protein C is a major physiological anticoagulant. It is a vitamin K-dependent serine protease enzyme (EC that is activated by thrombin into activated protein C (APC). The activated form (with protein S and phospholipid as a cofactor) degrades Factor Va and Factor VIIIa. Quantitative or qualitative deficiency of either may lead to thrombophilia (a tendency to develop thrombosis). Impaired action of Protein C (activated Protein C resistance), for example by having the "Leiden" variant of Factor V or high levels of FVIII also may lead to a thrombotic tendency.
  • Antithrombin is a serine protease inhibitor (serpin) that degrades the serine proteases; thrombin and FXa, as well as FXIIa, and FIXa. It is constantly active, but its adhesion to these factors is increased by the presence of heparan sulfate (a glycosaminoglycan) or the administration of heparins (different heparinoids increase affinity to F Xa, thrombin, or both). Quantitative or qualitative deficiency of antithrombin (inborn or acquired, e.g. in proteinuria) leads to thrombophilia.
  • Tissue factor pathway inhibitor (TFPI) inhibits F VIIa-related activation of F IX and F X after its original initiation.


Main article: Fibrinolysis

Eventually, all blood clots are reorganised and resorbed by a process termed fibrinolysis. The main enzyme responsible for this process (plasmin) is regulated by various activators and inhibitors.

Testing of coagulation

Numerous tests are used to assess the function of the coagulation system:

  • Common: aPTT, INR (PT), TCT, bleeding time, D-dimer
  • Other: mixing test (whether an abnormality corrects if the patient's plasma is mixed with normal plasma), antiphosholipid antibodies, coagulation factor assays, genetic tests (eg. factor V Leiden, prothrombin mutation G20210A), dilute Russell's viper venom time (dRVVT), platelet function tests, thromboelastography (TEG or ROTEM).

The contact factor pathway is initiated by activation of the "contact factors" of plasma, and can be measured by the activated partial thromboplastin time (aPTT) test.

The tissue factor pathway is initiated by release of "tissue factor" (a specific cellular lipoprotein), and can be measured by the prothrombin time (PT) test. This is reported as an INR value when used for the dosing of oral anticoagulants such as warfarin.

The quantitative and qualitative screening of fibrinogen is measured by the thrombin clotting time (TCT). Measurement of the exact amount of fibrinogen present in the blood is generally done using the Clauss method for fibrinogen testing. Many analysers are capable of measuring a "derived fibrinogen" level from the graph of the Prothrombin time clot.

If a coagulation factor is part of the contact or tissue factor pathway, a deficiency of that factor will affect only one of the tests: thus hemophilia A, a deficiency of factor VIII, which is part of the contact factor pathway, results in an abnormally prolonged aPTT test but a normal PT test. The exceptions are prothrombin, fibrinogen and some variants of FX which can only be detected by either aPTT or PT.

Deficiencies of fibrinogen (quantitative or qualitative) will affect all screening tests.

Role in disease

Problems with coagulation may dispose to hemorrhage, thrombosis, and occasionally both, depending on the nature of the pathology.

Platelet disorders

Platelet conditions may be inborn or acquired. Some inborn platelet pathologies are Glanzmann's thrombasthenia, Bernard-Soulier syndrome (abnormal glycoprotein Ib-IX-V complex), gray platelet syndrome (deficient alpha granules) and delta storage pool deficiency (deficient dense granules). Most are rare conditions. von Willebrand disease is due to deficiency or abnormal function of von Willebrand factor. Most inborn platelet pathologies predispose to hemorrhage.

Decreased platelet numbers may be due to various causes, including insufficient production (e.g. in myelodysplastic syndrome or other bone marrow disorders), destruction by the immune system (immune thrombocytopenic purpura/ITP), and consumption due to various causes (thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura/TTP, hemolytic-uremic syndrome/HUS, paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria/PNH, disseminated intravascular coagulation/DIC, heparin-induced thrombocytopenia/HIT). Most consumptive conditions lead to platelet activation, and some are associated with thrombosis.

Factor disorders and thrombosis

The best-known coagulation factor disorders are the hemophilias. The three main forms are hemophilia A (factor VIII deficiency), hemophilia B (factor IX deficiency or "Christmas disease") and hemophilia C (factor XI deficiency, mild bleeding tendency). Together with von Willebrand disease (which behaves more like a platelet disorder except in severe cases), these conditions predispose to bleeding. Most hemophilias are inherited. In liver failure (acute and chronic forms) there is insufficient production of coagulation factors by the liver; this may increase bleeding risk.

Thrombosis is the pathological development of blood clots, and embolism is said to occur when a blood clot (thrombus) migrates to another part of the body, interfering with organ function there. Most cases of thrombosis are due to acquired extrinsic problems (surgery, cancer, immobility, obesity, economy class syndrome), but a small proportion of people harbor predisposing conditions (e.g. antiphospholipid syndrome, factor V Leiden and various other rarer causes of thrombophilia).



The use of adsorbent chemicals, such as zeolites, and other hemostatic agents is also being explored for use in sealing severe injuries quickly. Thrombin and fibrin glue are used surgically to treat bleeding and to thrombose aneurysms.

Desmopressin is used to improve platelet function by activating arginine vasopressin receptor 1A.

Coagulation factor concentrates are used to treat hemophilia, to reverse the effects of anticoagulants, and to treat bleeding in patients with impaired coagulation factor synthesis or increased consumption. Prothrombin complex concentrate, cryoprecipitate and fresh frozen plasma are commonly-used coagulation factor products. Recombinant activated human factor VII is are increasingly popular in the treatment of major bleeding.

Tranexamic acid and aminocaproic acid inhibit fibrinolysis, and lead to a de facto reduced bleeding rate. Before its withdrawal, aprotinin was used in some forms of major surgery to decrease bleeding risk and need for blood products.


Main articles: Antiplatelet drug and Anticoagulant

Anticoagulants and anti-platelet agents are amongst the most commonly used medicines. Anti-platelet agents include aspirin, clopidogrel, dipyridamole and ticlopidine; the parenteral glycoprotein IIb/IIIa inhibitors are used during angioplasty.

Of the anticoagulants, warfarin (and related coumarins) and heparin are the most commonly used. Warfarin interacts with vitamin K, while heparin and related compounds increase the action of antithrombin on thrombin and factor Xa. A newer class of drugs, the direct thrombin inhibitors, is under development; some members are already in clinical use (such as lepirudin). Also under development are other small molecular compounds that interfere directly with the enzymatic action of particular coagulation factors (e.g. rivaroxaban).

Coagulation factors

Coagulation factors and related substances
Number and/or name Function
I (fibrinogen) Forms clot (fibrin)
II (prothrombin) Its active form (IIa) activates I, V, VIII, XI, XIII, protein C, platelets
Tissue factor Co-factor of VIIa (formerly known as factor III)
Calcium Required for coagulation factors to bind to phospholipid (formerly known as factor IV)
V (proaccelerin, labile factor) Co-factor of X with which it forms the prothrombinase complex
VI Unassigned – old name of Factor Va
VII (stable factor) Activates IX, X
VIII (antihemophilic factor) Co-factor of IX with which it forms the tenase complex
IX (Christmas factor) Activates X: forms tenase complex with factor VIII
X (Stuart-Prower factor) Activates II: forms prothrombinase complex with factor V
XI (plasma thromboplastin antecedent) Activates IX
XII (Hageman factor) Activates factor XI and prekallikrein
XIII (fibrin-stabilizing factor) Crosslinks fibrin
von Willebrand factor Binds to VIII, mediates platelet adhesion
prekallikrein Activates XII and prekallikrein; cleaves HMWK
high molecular weight kininogen (HMWK) Supports reciprocal activation of XII, XI, and prekallikrein
fibronectin Mediates cell adhesion
antithrombin III Inhibits IIa, Xa, and other proteases;
heparin cofactor II Inhibits IIa, cofactor for heparin and dermatan sulfate ("minor antithrombin")
protein C Inactivates Va and VIIIa
protein S Cofactor for activated protein C (APC, inactive when bound to C4b-binding protein)
protein Z Mediates thrombin adhesion to phospholipids and stimulates degradation of factor X by ZPI
Protein Z-related protease inhibitor (ZPI) Degrades factors X (in presence of protein Z) and XI (independently)
plasminogen Converts to plasmin, lyses fibrin and other proteins
alpha 2-antiplasmin Inhibits plasmin
tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) Activates plasminogen
urokinase Activates plasminogen
plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI1) Inactivates tPA & urokinase (endothelial PAI)
plasminogen activator inhibitor-2 (PAI2) Inactivates tPA & urokinase (placental PAI)
cancer procoagulant Pathological factor X activator linked to thrombosis in cancer


Initial discoveries

Theories on the coagulation of blood have existed since antiquity. Physiologist Johannes Müller (1801-1858) described fibrin, the substance of a thrombus. Its soluble precursor, fibrinogen, was thus named by Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902), and isolated chemically by Prosper Sylvain Denis (1799-1863). Alexander Schmidt suggested that the conversion from fibrinogen to fibrin was the result of an enzymatic process, and labeled the hypothetical enzyme "thrombin" and its precursor "prothrombin".[2][3] Arthus discovered in 1890 that calcium was essential in coagulation.[4][5] Platelets were identified in 1865, and their function was elucidated by Giulio Bizzozero in 1882.[6]

The theory that thrombin was generated by the presence of tissue factor was consolidated by Paul Morawitz in 1905.[7] At this stage, it was known that thrombokinase/thromboplastin (factor III) was released by damaged tissues, reacting with prothrombin (II), which, together with calcium (IV), formed thrombin, which converted fibrinogen into fibrin (I).[8]

Coagulation factors

The remainder of the biochemical factors in the process of coagulation were largely discovered in the 20th century.

A first clue as to the actual complexity of the system of coagulation was the discovery of proaccelerin (initially and later called Factor V) by Paul Owren (1905-1990) in 1947. He also postulated that its function was the generation of accelerin (Factor VI), which later turned out to be the activated form of V (or Va); hence, VI is not now in active use.[8]

Factor VII (also known as serum prothrombin conversion accelerator or proconvertin, precipitated by barium sulfate) was discovered in a young female patient in 1949 and 1951 by different groups.

Factor VIII turned out to be deficient in the clinically recognised but etiologically elusive hemophilia A; it was identified in the 1950s and is alternatively called antihemophilic globulin due to its capability to correct hemophilia A.[8]

Factor IX was discovered in 1952 in a young patient with hemophilia B named Stephen Christmas (1947-1993). His deficiency was described by Dr. Rosemary Biggs and Professor R.G. MacFarlane in Oxford, UK. The factor is hence called Christmas Factor or Christmas Eve Factor. Christmas lived in Canada, and campaigned for blood transfusion safety until succumbing to transfusion-related AIDS at age 46. An alternative name for the factor is plasma thromboplastin component, given by an independent group in California.[8]

Hageman factor, now known as factor XII, was identified in 1955 in an asymptomatic patient with a prolonged bleeding time named of John Hageman. Factor X, or Stuart-Prower factor, followed, in 1956. This protein was identified in a Ms. Audrey Prower of London, who had a lifelong bleeding tendency. In 1957, an American group identified the same factor in a Mr. Rufus Stuart. Factors XI and XIII were identified in 1953 and 1961, respectively.[8]

The view that the coagulation process was a "cascade" or "waterfall" was enunciated almost simultaneously by MacFarlane[9] in the UK and by Ravie and Ratnoff[10] in the USA, respectively.


The usage of Roman numerals rather than eponyms or systematic names was agreed upon during annual conferences (starting in 1955) of hemostasis experts. In 1962, consensus was achieved on the numbering of factors I-XII.[11] This committee evolved into the present-day International Committee on Thrombosis and Hemostasis (ICTH). Assignment of numerals ceased in 1963 after the naming of Factor XIII. The names Fletcher Factor and Fitzgerald Factor were given to further coagulation-related proteins, namely prekallikrein and high molecular weight kininogen respectively.[8]

Factors III and VI are unassigned, as thromboplastin was never identified, and actually turned out to consist of ten further factors, and accelerin was found to be activated Factor V.

Other species

All mammals have an extremely closely related blood coagulation process, using a combined cellular and serine protease process. In fact, it is possible for any mammalian coagulation factor to "cleave" its equivalent target in any other mammal. The only nonmammalian animal that uses serine proteases for blood coagulation is the horseshoe crab.


  1. ^ Furie B, Furie BC (2005). "Thrombus formation in vivo". J. Clin. Invest. 115 (12): 3355-62. doi:10.1172/JCI26987. PMID 16322780. Full text at PMC: 1297262
  2. ^ Schmidt A (1872). "Neue Untersuchungen ueber die Fasserstoffesgerinnung". Pflüger's Archiv für die gesamte Physiologie 6: 413-538.
  3. ^ Schmidt A. Zur Blutlehre. Leipzig: Vogel, 1892.
  4. ^ Arthus M, Pagès C (1890). "Nouvelle theorie chimique de la coagulation du sang". Arch Physiol Norm Pathol 5: 739–46.
  5. ^ Shapiro SS (2003). "Treating thrombosis in the 21st century". N. Engl. J. Med. 349 (18): 1762–4. doi:10.1056/NEJMe038152. PMID 14585945.
  6. ^ Brewer DB (2006). "Max Schultze (1865), G. Bizzozero (1882) and the discovery of the platelet". Br. J. Haematol. 133 (3): 251–8. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2141.2006.06036.x. PMID 16643426.
  7. ^ Morawitz P (1905). "Die Chemie der Blutgerinnung". Ergebn Physiol 4: 307-422.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Giangrande PL (2003). "Six characters in search of an author: the history of the nomenclature of coagulation factors". Br. J. Haematol. 121 (5): 703–12. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2141.2003.04333.x. PMID 12780784.
  9. ^ MacFarlane RG (1964). "An enzyme cascade in the blood clotting mechanism, and its function as a biochemical amplifier". Nature 202: 498–9. doi::10.1038/202498a0. PMID 14167839.
  10. ^ Davie EW, Ratnoff OD (1964). "Waterfall sequence for intrinsic blood clotting". Science 145: 1310–2. doi:10.1126/science.145.3638.1310. PMID 14173416.
  11. ^ Wright IS (1962). "The nomenclature of blood clotting factors". Can Med Assoc J 86: 373–4. PMID 14008442. Full text at PMC: 1848865
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Coagulation". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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