Platelet aggregation requires the binding of fibrinogen to its receptor, a heterodimer consisting of the plasma-membrane glycoproteins (GP) IIb and IIIa. Although the GPIIb-IIIa complex is present on the surface of unstimulated platelets, it binds fibrinogen only after platelet activation. We have used an immunogold-surface replica technique to study the distribution of GPIIb-IIIa and bound fibrinogen over broad areas of surface membranes in unstimulated, as well as thrombin-activated and ADP-activated human platelets. We found that the immunogold-labeled GPIIb-IIIa was monodispersed over the surface of unstimulated platelets, although the cell surface lacked immunoreactive fibrinogen. On thrombin-stimulated platelets, approximately 65% of the GPIIb-IIIa molecules were in clusters within the plane of the membrane. Fibrinogen, which had been released from the alpha-granules of these cells, bound to GPIIb-IIIa on the cell surface and was similarly clustered. To determine whether the receptors clustered before ligand binding, or as a consequence thereof, we studied the surface distribution of GPIIb-IIIa after stimulation with ADP, which causes activation of the fibrinogen receptor function of GPIIb-IIIa without inducing the release of fibrinogen. In the absence of added fibrinogen, the unoccupied, yet binding-competent receptors on ADP-stimulated platelets were monodispersed. The addition of fibrinogen caused the GPIIb-IIIa molecules to cluster on the cell surface. Clustering was also induced by the addition of the GPIIb-IIIa-binding domains of fibrinogen, namely the tetrapeptide Arg-Gly-Asp-Ser on the alpha-chain or the gamma-chain decapeptide gamma 402-411. These results show that receptor occupancy causes clustering of GPIIb-IIIa in activated platelets.

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