The induction of monocyte/macrophage procoagulant activity (PCA) has been implicated in the pathogenesis of murine hepatitis virus strain 3 (MHV-3) infection and disease. Previously, we have shown that induction of PCA by MHV-3 correlated with resistance/susceptibility to infection in different mouse strains. In this study, all BALB/cJ mice that were infected with 10(3) plaque-forming units of MHV-3 developed severe liver disease and died within 96-120 h. Examination of the livers of these animals showed marked hepatic necrosis, deposition of fibrin, and cellular expression of PCA by direct immunofluorescence staining in areas of necrosis as well as in hepatic sinusoids. Splenic mononuclear cells recovered from these mice expressed high concentrations of PCA with time after infection. Infusion into mice of a high-titered monoclonal antibody that neutralized PCA (3D4.3) attenuated the development of hepatic necrosis and enhanced survival in a dose-dependent manner. All of the animals receiving 100 micrograms, and 44% and 22% of the animals that received 50 and 25 micrograms per day, respectively, survived for 10 d and made a full recovery. Administration of the antibody resulted in a dose-dependent reduction in fibrin deposition, PCA expression as detected by direct immunofluorescence staining and by a functional assay. In animals treated with high concentrations of antibody, titers of antibody to PCA fell from 87 +/- 15 micrograms/ml to 100 +/- 7 ng/ml during the active phase of the disease, consistent with sequestration due to binding of the immunoglobulin to cells expressing PCA. Surviving animals, when rechallenged with MHV-3, had a 40% mortality, consistent with the known rates of metabolism of immunoglobulin. This further suggested that protection was by a passive mechanism. The results reported here demonstrate that a neutralizing antibody to PCA protects animals from fulminant hepatitis and death associated with MHV-3 infection, and supports the notion that PCA is a potent inflammatory mediator that plays a pivotal role in the pathogenesis of liver injury resulting from MHV-3 infection.