Hirudin and hirulog-1 [D-Phe-Pro-Arg-Pro-[Gly]4-desulphohirudin-(54-65)] abrogate the enzyme activities of alpha-thrombin by binding the enzyme simultaneously at its catalytic centre and fibrin(ogen)-recognition exosite. In contrast, hirugen [hirudin-(54-65)] binds alpha-thrombin solely at the fibrin(ogen)-recognition exosite, and competitively inhibits fibrinopeptide A release. To investigate the extent to which the fibrin(ogen)-recognition exosite is involved when alpha-thrombin catalyses the amplification reactions of coagulation, we compared the abilities of hirudin, hirulog-1 and hirugen to inhibit simultaneously Factor X, Factor V and prothrombin activation. Whereas 0.1 microM-hirudin and 0.1 microM-hirulog-1 (i.e. less than 10% of the concentration of prothrombin in plasma) inhibited Factor X, Factor V and prothrombin activation, 10 microM was the minimum concentration of hirugen to achieve a similar anticoagulant action. Concentrations of hirudin and hirulog-1 equimolar to and 5 times greater than those of alpha-thrombin respectively abrogated Factor V activation by exogenous alpha-thrombin. In contrast, a 500-fold molar excess of hirugen could not. The inability of hirugen to inhibit the activation of the three clotting factors effectively suggests that the fibrin(ogen)-recognition exosite does not play a mandatory role when thrombin activates Factor V.