The binding of heparin causes a conformational change in antithrombin to give an increased heparin binding affinity and activate the inhibition of thrombin and factor Xa. The areas of antithrombin involved in binding heparin and stabilizing the interaction in the high-affinity form have been partially resolved through the study of both recombinant and natural variants. The role of a section of the N-terminal segment of antithrombin, residues 22-46 (segment 22-46), in heparin binding was investigated using rapid kinetic analysis of the protein cleaved at residues 29-30 by limited proteolysis with thermolysin. The cleaved antithrombin had 5.5-fold lowered affinity for heparin pentasaccharide and 1.8-fold for full-length, high-affinity heparin. It was shown that, although the initial binding of heparin is slightly enhanced by the cleavage, it dissociates much faster from the cleaved form, giving rise to the overall decrease in heparin affinity. This implies that the segment constituting residues 22-46 in the N terminus of antithrombin hinders access to the binding site for heparin, hence the increased initial binding for the cleaved form, whereas, when heparin is bound, segment 22-46 is involved in the stabilization of the binding interaction, as indicated by the increased dissociation constant. When the heparin pentasaccharide is bound to antithrombin prior to incubation with thermolysin, it protects the N-terminal cleavage site, implying that segment 22-46 moves to interact with heparin in the conformational change and thus stabilizes the complex.