Besides its procoagulant activity, thrombin has been shown to stimulate cell proliferation and to regulate the fibrinolytic pathway. We report here the effect of purified human alpha thrombin on the synthesis of tissue-type plasminogen activator (t-PA) and plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 (PAI-1) by cultured human mesangial cells. Thrombin (0 to 2.5 U/ml) increased in a time- and dose-dependent manner the production of t-PA and PAI-1 (2- to 3-fold increase of secreted t-PA and PAI-1 release during a 24 hour incubation). This effect was associated with a twofold increase in DNA synthesis measured by 3H-thymidine incorporation. Zymographic analysis and reverse fibrin autography showed that thrombin also increased the level of the 110 Kd t-PA-PAI-1 complex, whereas PAI-1 was present as a free 50 Kd form in the culture medium conditioned by unstimulated and thrombin-stimulated cells. Free t-PA was never observed. Both membrane binding and catalytic activity of thrombin were required since the effects of 1 U/ml thrombin were inhibited by addition 2 U/ml hirudin, which inhibits the membrane binding and catalytic activity of thrombin, and since DFP-inactivated thrombin, which has the ability to bind but which has no enzymatic activity, did not induce t-PA or PAI-1. Gamma thrombin, which does not bind to thrombin receptor, did not increase t-PA and PAI-1 releases. The effects of thrombin were probably mediated by protein kinase C activation since H7, an inhibitor of protein kinases, inhibited significantly thrombin effects on t-PA and PAI-1 production, and since addition of an activator of protein kinase A, 8-bromocyclic AMP (100 μM), induced a significant inhibition of the thrombin effect. The effects of thrombin were also suppressed by 1.25 μg/ml alpha amanitin, suggesting a requirement of de novo RNA synthesis. Northern blot analysis indicated that thrombin induced an increase in the mRNA levels of t-PA and of PAI-1. We conclude that thrombin increases DNA synthesis in human mesangial cells and enhances the synthesis of both t-PA and PAI-1. The latter is released in a large excess as compared to t-PA. Hence, thrombin may have a role in provoking a localized hypofibrinolytic state and may contribute to the persistence of glomerular fibrin deposits during proliferative glomerulonephritis.