Protease cascades and their inhibitors are a common feature of many biological regulatory systems, and the various components of such cascades have been subjected to a long and concerted evolution. We present here evidence that in the coagulation cascade, the sequence of the protease-binding reactive-site loop of antithrombin has evolved such that the majority of its residues has been acquired not for the efficient inhibition of its target proteases, thrombin and factor Xa, but to avoid the inhibition of activated protein C (APC). We substituted residues of the reactive-site loop of antithrombin into alpha(1)-antitrypsin and tested the chimeras against thrombin, factor Xa, and APC. With respect to factor Xa and thrombin, the difference in association rate between the fastest and the slowest inhibitors was 5.5- and 88-fold, respectively. However, with respect to APC the difference was 12,500-fold. While most of the variation in the inhibition rates of thrombin could be accounted for by P2 Gly-to-Pro substitutions, for APC almost every residue had an effect on inhibition. In 22 of 25 direct comparisons of antitrypsin residues with antithrombin residues, either singly or in blocs, the antithrombin residues caused a decrease in the rate of inhibition of APC. The antithrombin residue Asn393, at position P'3, emerged as particularly important for avoiding the inhibition of APC, however, its 190-fold effect was seen only when in conjunction with antithrombin P7 to P'2 residues. Cooperative effects among residues of the reactive-site loop thus emerged as critical for restricting the activity of this sequence against APC.