Tissue factor (TF) is a transmembrane glycoprotein that initiates the coagulation cascade. Because of the potential role of TF in mediating arterial thrombosis, we have examined its expression in human aortic and coronary artery smooth muscle cells (SMC). TF mRNA and protein were induced in SMC by a variety of growth agonists. Exposure to PDGF AA or BB for 30 min provided all of the necessary signals for induction of TF mRNA and protein. This result was consistent with nuclear runoff analyses, demonstrating that PDGF-induced TF transcription occurred within 30 min. A newly developed assay involving binding of digoxigenin-labeled FVIIa (DigVIIa) and digoxigenin-labeled Factor X (DigX) was used to localize cellular TF. By light and confocal microscopy, prominent TF staining was seen in the perinuclear cytoplasm beginning 2 h after agonist treatment and persisting for 10-12 h. Surface TF activity, measured on SMC monolayers under flow conditions, increased transiently, peaking 4-6 h after agonist stimulation and returning to baseline within 16 h. Peak surface TF activity was only approximately 20% of total TF activity measured in cell lysates. Surface TF-blocking experiments demonstrated that the remaining TF was found as encrypted surface TF, and also in an intracellular pool. The relatively short-lived surface expression of TF may be critical for limiting the thrombotic potential of intact SMC exposed to growth factor stimulation. In contrast, the encrypted surface and intracellular pools may provide a rich source of TF under conditions associated with SMC damage, such as during atherosclerotic plaque rupture or balloon arterial injury.