Phage display technology has been exploited to study in detail the interaction between plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 (PAI-1) and either thrombin or an essential positively charged "loop" of tissue-type plasminogen activator (t-PA), denoted variable region 1 (VR1). For this purpose, a PAI-1 mutant phage library was used that served as a reservoir of PAI-1 proteins potentially deficient in the interaction with either VR1 or thrombin. A stringent two-step selection procedure was developed. (i) A negative selection was performed by incubating the pComb3/PAI-1 mutant library with an excess of a thrombin mutant with its VR1 domain substituted with that of t-PA (thrombin-VR1). (ii) The remaining phages were complexed with t-PA (positive selection) and selected by panning with an immobilized anti-t-PA monoclonal antibody. Four consecutive panning rounds yielded an enrichment of pComb3/PAI-1 mutant phages of approximately 50-fold. Sequence analysis of 16 different cDNAs, encoding PAI-1 mutants that are hampered in the binding to thrombin-VR1, revealed the following mutations. Four independent variants share a mutation of the P4' residue (Glu350 --> Lys). Nine independent PAI-1 variants share a substitution of P1' (Met347 --> Lys), whereas three others share a P2 substitution (Ala345 --> Asp). Kinetic analysis of representative PAI-1 mutants provides evidence that the P4' residue is essential for the interaction with the VR1 domain, consistent with the data of Madison et al. (Madison, E.L., Goldsmith, E.J., Gething, M.J., Sambrook, J.F., and Gerard, R.D. (1990) J. Biol. Chem. 265, 21423-21426), whereas the P1' and P2 residues confer thrombin specificity. Concordant with the design of the selection procedure, mutants were obtained that inhibit thrombin-VR1 at least 100-fold slower than wild-type PAI-1, identifying residues that are central to the interaction with either thrombin or VR1. This study demonstrates that phage technology can be used to analyze large numbers of mutants defective in their interaction with other (domains of) proteins, provided an adequate selection scheme is devised.