Platelet-type von Willebrand disease (vWD) and pseudo-vWD are two recently described intrinsic platelet defects characterized by enhanced ristocetin-induced agglutination in platelet-rich plasma. A similar finding is also typical of type IIB vWD, where it has been related to a von Willebrand factor (vWF) rather than a platelet abnormality. Platelet aggregation induced by unmodified human vWF in the absence of other stimuli has been reported in pseudo-vWD. In this study we demonstrate that vWF induces aggregation in platelet-type but not type IIB vWD. Aggregation is observed when normal plasma cryoprecipitate or purified vWF are added to platelet-rich plasma. Cryoprecipitate also aggregates washed platelets, although at higher concentrations than required for platelet-rich plasma. Purified vWF, however, induces significant aggregation of washed platelets only when plasma is added. EDTA inhibits vWF-induced aggregation. Its effect can be overcome by calcium but much less effectively by magnesium ions. Unstimulated platelets in platelet-rich plasma from patients with platelet-type but not type IIB vWD bind 125I-vWF in a specific and saturable manner. All different sized multimers of vWF become associated with platelets. Both aggregation and binding exhibit a similar vWF concentration dependence, suggesting that a correlation exists between these two events. Removal of ADP by appropriate consuming systems is without effect upon such binding or upon vWF-induced aggregation. Thrombin-induced 125I-vWF binding to washed platelets is normal in platelet-type as well as type IIB vWD. These results demonstrate that a specific binding site for unmodified human vWF is exposed on unstimulated platelets in platelet-type vWD. The relatively high vWF concentrations required for aggregation and binding may explain the lack of significant in vivo aggregation and thrombocytopenia in these patients. Moreover, these studies provide additional evidence that platelet-type and type IIB vWD are different diseases with distinct pathogeneses.