Previous studies demonstrated proteolytic activation of human blood coagulation factor VII by an unidentified protease following complex formation with tissue factor expressed on the surface of a human bladder carcinoma cell line (J82). In the present study, an active-site mutant human factor VII cDNA (Ser344----Ala) has been constructed, subcloned, and expressed in baby hamster kidney cells. Mutant factor VII was purified to homogeneity in a single step from serum-free culture supernatants by immunoaffinity column chromatography. Mutant factor VII was fully carboxylated, possessed no apparent clotting activity, and was indistinguishable from plasma factor VII by SDS-PAGE. Cell binding studies indicated that mutant factor VII bound to J82 tissue factor with essentially the same affinity as plasma factor VII and was cleaved by factor Xa at the same rate as plasma factor VII. In contrast to radiolabeled single-chain plasma factor VII that was progressively converted to two-chain factor VIIa on J82 monolayers, mutant factor VII was not cleaved following complex formation with J82 tissue factor. Incubation of radiolabeled mutant factor VII with J82 cells in the presence of recombinant factor VIIa resulted in the time-dependent and tissue factor dependent conversion of single-chain mutant factor VII to two-chain mutant factor VIIa. Plasma levels of antithrombin III had no discernible effect on the factor VIIa catalyzed activation of factor VII on J82 cell-surface tissue factor but completely blocked this reaction catalyzed by factor Xa. These results are consistent with an autocatalytic mechanism of factor VII activation following complex formation with cell-surface tissue factor, which may play an important role in the initiation of extrinsic coagulation in normal hemostasis.