Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIgG) causes an acute rise in the platelet count in the majority of patients with chronic immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) but the mechanism(s) of action is still unknown. We evaluated the ability of three different IVIgG preparations to inhibit the in vitro binding of autoantibody to platelet glycoprotein (GP) IIb/IIIa. ITP plasma, known to contain anti-GPIIb/IIIa antibodies, was incubated overnight with either IVIgG or bovine serum albumin (BSA) followed by measurement of the autoantibody titer. Binding of autoantibody from eight ITP patients was inhibited by IVIgG in proportion to the IVIgG concentration. Using 3.2% IVIgG, compatible with therapeutic concentrations expected in vivo, mean inhibition of autoantibody binding ranged from 20.2% to 41.3%. No inhibition by IVIgG of alloantibody binding to the same or different molecules was detected (five patients with anti-GPIIb/IIIa and two with anti-HLA alloantibodies). F(ab')2 fragments of IVIgG also inhibited the binding of both plasma autoantibodies and purified anti-GPIIb/IIIA autoantibodies prepared by elution from antigen affinity columns. A portion of the anti-idiotypic antibodies could be adsorbed from IVIgG using insolubilized, purified anti-GPIIb/IIIa autoantibody. These results show that IVIgG preparations from normal donors contain anti-idiotypic antibodies directed against idiotypes located on GPIIb/IIIa autoantibodies but do not have anti-idiotypes to platelet alloantibodies against the same or different molecules. The importance of these anti-idiotypic antibodies in the therapeutic response to IVIgG remains to be established.