Von Willebrand factor (vWF) was purified from the plasma of a patient with type IIB von Willebrand disease (vWF from such a patient, IIB vWF) who had a normal platelet count and showed no evidence of spontaneous platelet aggregation. Large multimers of IIB vWF were absent from purified preparations and from plasma. Ristocetin-induced platelet aggregation was enhanced by purified IIB vWF. The aggregation of washed normal platelets mixed with IIB vWF (0.4 microgram/ml) required lower amounts of ristocetin than the aggregation of normal platelets mixed with the same concentrations of normal vWF. Moreover, purified IIB vWF alone induced aggregation of platelet-rich plasma at concentrations as low as 10 micrograms of IIB vWF/ml in the absence of any other agonist. Aggregation was blocked by a monoclonal antibody against the platelet membrane glycoprotein, GPIb, as well as by an anti-GPIIb/IIIa antibody. Washed platelet suspensions were promptly aggregated by IIB vWF only when fibrinogen and CaCl2 were added to the mixture. Purified IIB vWF induces the binding of fibrinogen to platelets. Such binding was blocked by the anti-GPIb monoclonal antibody as well as by the anti-GPIIb/IIIa monoclonal antibody that inhibited aggregation. A second anti-GPIIb/IIIa antibody, which has the property of blocking vWF but not fibrinogen binding to platelets, blocked neither aggregation nor fibrinogen binding induced by IIB vWF. These studies demonstrate that platelet aggregation is triggered by the initial interaction of IIB vWF with GPIb which is followed by exposure of fibrinogen binding sites on GPIIb/IIIa. Fibrinogen binds to these sites and acts as a necessary cofactor for the aggregation response.