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Abstract

The human blood coagulation system comprises a series of linked glycoproteins that upon activation induce the generation of downstream enzymes ultimately forming fibrin. This process is primarily important to arrest bleeding (hemostasis). Hemostasis is a typical example of a molecular machine, where the assembly of substrates, enzymes, protein cofactors and calcium ions on a phospholipid surface markedly accelerates the rate of coagulation. Excess, pathological, coagulation activity occurs in “thrombosis”, the formation of an intravascular clot, which in the most dramatic form precipitates in the microvasculature as disseminated intravascular coagulation. Thrombosis occurs according to a biochemical machine model in the case of atherothrombosis on a ruptured atherosclerotic plaque, but may develop at a slower rate in venous thrombosis, illustrating that the coagulation machinery can act at different velocities. The separate coagulation enzymes are also important in other biological processes, including inflammation for which the rapid conversion of one coagulation factor by the other is not a prerequisite. The latter role of coagulation enzymes may be related to the old and probably maintained function of the coagulation machine in innate immunity. BioEssays 25:1220–1228, 2003. © 2003 Wiley Perioicals, Inc.