We have used recombinant von Willebrand factor (vWF) fragments to investigate the properties regulating A1 domain interaction with platelet glycoprotein (GP) Ibalpha. One fragment, rvWF508-704, represented the main portion of domain A1 (mature subunit residues 497-716) within the Cys509-Cys695 disulfide loop. The other, rvWF445-733, included the carboxyl-terminal region of domain D3, preceding A1, and corresponded to the proteolytic fragment originally identified as the GP Ibalpha-binding site (residues 449-728). Conformational changes were induced by reduction and alkylation of the Cys509-Cys695 bond and/or exposure to acidic pH. The cyclic rvWF445-733 fragment exhibited the function of native vWF A1 domain. When immobilized onto a surface, it tethered platelets at shear rates up to 6,300 s-1 mediating low velocity translocation but not stable attachment; in solution, it exhibited limited interaction with GP Ibalpha. In contrast, fragments with perturbed conformation could not tether platelets at high shear rates but promoted stable adhesion at lower shear and bound tightly to GP Ibalpha. Only in the presence of the exogenous modulator, botrocetin, did cyclic rvWF445-733 mediate irreversible adhesion. Thus, conformational transitions in the vWF A1 domain may influence differentially the efficiency of bond formation with GP Ibalpha and the stability of binding.