Infection by Porphyromonas gingivalis is strongly associated with adult periodontitis, with proteinases from this bacterium now considered to be important virulence factors. In order to investigate possible pathological functions of these enzymes, we examined the effect of both free and vesicle-bound forms of the two major cysteine proteinases (gingipains) of P. gingivalis on plasma clot formation by using thrombin time (TT) measurements. Both Lys-gingipain (gingipain-K) and Arg-gingipain (gingipain-R) prolonged plasma TT in a dose- and time-dependent manner, and this was also found with vesicles which are the biological carriers of P. gingivalis proteinases. The increase in plasma TT by vesicles could be completely reversed by treatment with nonspecific cysteine proteinase inhibitors but only partially by compounds selective for either gingipain-K or gingipain-R. Preincubation of vesicles with a gingipain-K-specific inhibitor (z-FK-ck) reduced plasma TT more than a gingipain-R-specific inhibitor (leupeptin), suggesting that under physiological conditions gingipain-K was more effective in fibrinogen destruction. Each purified enzyme also markedly increased fibrinogen TT, gingipain-R being fourfold more potent than gingipain-K. However, in plasma, gingipain-R was ineffective because of the inhibitory effect of albumin. These results imply that cysteine proteinases, especially gingipain-K, abrogate the clotting potential of fibrinogen and, therefore, may contribute to the bleeding tendency and to persistent inflammation in periodontitis sites infected with P. gingivalis.