Platelet activation altered the binding of three monoclonal antibodies (monovalent Fab' fragment) directed against the glycoprotein (GP) IIb/IIIa complex. An increased binding of two- to threefold occurred after stimulation with thrombin or phorbol myristate acetate (PMA), with slight but significant increase in the dissociation constants (Kd) of two antibodies (LJ-CP8 and LJ-P9). In contrast, no statistically significant changes were observed with ADP-stimulated platelets. The increased binding of LJ-CP3, but not of the other two antibodies, to activated platelets decreased by 30% to 40% in the presence of EDTA at 22 to 25 degrees C. Platelets stimulated by thrombin or PMA bound more fibrinogen than did those stimulated by ADP, and significant differences in the extent but not in the affinity of fibrinogen binding were observed with various platelet agonists. When the pool of GP IIb/IIIa molecules exposed on the surface of unstimulated platelets was reacted with the monoclonal antibody LJ-CP3 to block ADP-induced fibrinogen binding and platelet aggregation, stimulation with thrombin or PMA still induced substantial binding of antibody and fibrinogen, and aggregation ensued. Therefore, platelets exposed to "strong" agonists exhibit an increased number of surface-oriented epitopes associated with GP IIb/IIIa. The GP IIb/IIIa molecules bearing these newly exposed epitopes are functional in that they can bind fibrinogen and mediate platelet aggregation.