von Willebrand factor (vWF) is a multimeric glycoprotein that supports platelet adhesion on thrombogenic surfaces as part of the normal hemostatic response to vascular injury. We have employed a domain-specific expression strategy to analyze the biosynthetic processing steps and minimum structural requirements for assembly of the platelet receptor glycoprotein Ib-binding domain of vWF. A chimeric cDNA that codes for the vWF signal peptide and a segment of vWF internal primary sequence, residues 441-730, directs the secretion of a functional vWF fragment from mammalian cells. The recombinant molecule intrinsically assembles through intermolecular disulfide bond formation into a dimeric adhesive domain without contributions from other regions of vWF, including propeptide, previously indicated as essential for vWF multimer assembly. Prevention of N-linked glycosylation on the recombinant domain does not impair dimer formation or the ability to support platelet aggregation. These results identify a minimum structural element for vWF subunit assembly and provide new insights into the processing steps to produce vWF multimers and adhesive domains.