Ca(II) ions are crucial during proteolytic conversion of Factor XIII zymogen into the active enzyme Factor XIIIa. Factor XIII proteolyzed by thrombin or trypsin in the presence of 5 mM-EDTA resulted in rapid inactivation of transglutaminase activity. Factor XIIIa formed by thrombin or trypsin in the presence of 40 microM-Tb(III) ions, however, was indistinguishable from Factor XIIIa formed in the presence of 2-5 mM-Ca(II) ions with respect to molecular mass and transglutaminase activity. Thrombin treatment of Factor XIII in the presence of 1-5 microM-Tb(III) ions resulted in three fragments (76 kDa, 51 kDa and 19 kDa) with simultaneous loss of transglutaminase activity. Tb(III) ions at concentrations greater than 40 microM made platelet Factor XIII resistant to proteolysis by either thrombin or trypsin. Other lanthanide(III) ions [Ln(III) ions] tested [Ce(III), La(III) and Gd(III) ions] functioned similarly to Tb(III) ions during proteolytic activation of Factor XIII. Ln(III) ions (10-100 microM) were unable to replace the Ca(II) ions required for transglutaminase activity of Factor XIIIa. Tb(III) ions also inhibited in a non-competitive manner the transglutaminase activity of Factor XIIIa (Ki 71 microM) even when measured in the presence of 200-fold molar excess of Ca(II) ions. Factor XIII selectively bound to a Tb(III)-chelate affinity column, and could not be eluted by 100 mM-CaCl2. Binding of Tb(III) ions to Factor XIII was demonstrated by fluorescence emission due to Forster energy transfer. A 10(4)-fold molar excess of CaCl2, but not NaCl, partially quenched Tb(III) fluorescence. Low concentrations (5-20 microM) of Tb(III) ions also inhibited the binding of Factor XIII to des-A-fibrinogen by about 43%, whereas higher concentrations (40-100 microM) promoted binding. Conformational changes in Factor XIII consequent to the binding of Tb(III) ions could be responsible for the observed effects on protein structure and function.