Postoperative fibrinolytic shutdown has been attributed to an increase in plasma levels of type I plasminogen activator inhibitor (PAI-1) activity and may contribute to postoperative venous thrombosis. The purpose of this study was to determine whether the postoperative increase in PAI-1 is contributed to by a plasma mediator(s) that stimulates PAI-1 synthesis and secretion by vascular endothelium. Plasma samples collected from patients (N = 11) before and after surgery for total hip replacement were (1) assayed for endogenous plasma PAI-1 antigen and activity, and (2) incubated with cultured human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) and PAI-1 antigen and activity measured in the conditioned medium (CM). Eighteen hours after surgery, endogenous plasma levels of PAI-1 antigen and activity were increased by 225% (P = .003) and 190% (P = .04), respectively over the preoperative values. In addition, compared with preoperative plasma, postoperative plasma increased HUVEC secretion of PAI-1 antigen and activity by 99% (P = .001) and 66% (P = .002), respectively. This increase in HUVEC PAI-1 secretion reflects an increase in PAI-1 mRNA expression and protein biosynthesis as confirmed by metabolic radiolabeling, immunoprecipitation, and Northern blot analysis. Ultra- filtration experiments indicate that the postoperative plasma mediator(s) that stimulates HUVEC PAI-1 biosynthesis is in a molecular weight (MW) range of approximately 30 to 100 Kd. Heat treatment (56 degrees C; 30 minutes) of postoperative plasma abolished the induction of HUVEC PAI-1 production. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and immunoneutralization experiments indicate that tumor necrosis factor- alpha (TNF alpha) and interleukin-1 alpha (IL-1 alpha) do not contribute to the postoperative plasma effect on HUVEC PAI-1 synthesis. These observations demonstrate that postoperative patient plasma contains a factor(s) that may stimulate endothelial cell PAI-1 biosynthesis in vivo and thus mediate postoperative fibrinolytic shut- down.