Following an ill-defined activation event, the Arg-Gly-Asp (RGD) recognition site of the platelet integrin, glycoprotein IIb-IIIa (alpha IIb beta 3), can bind to fluid-phase, RGD-containing protein ligands, such as fibrinogen, or to the murine monoclonal IgM, PAC-1, which contains the sequence Arg-Tyr-Asp (RYD) within the third complementarity-determining region of its heavy chain (H3). PAC-1 has thus become a widely exploited marker of platelet alpha IIb beta 3 activation. In this report, we compare PAC-1 with two murine IgG, OP-G2 (IgG1 kappa) and LJ-CP3 (IgG1 kappa), that also contain the sequence RYD in H3 but bind to alpha IIb beta 3 without prior activation. Each antibody can inhibit the binding of the other two to intact platelets or to purified IIb-IIIa, the binding of each antibody is completely inhibited by peptides containing RGD, and H3 of each antibody uses the germline D-gene DSP 2.10 (CTATAGGTACGAC) which includes the sequence RYD. Two other murine IgG, HP20 and PCG1-1, cloned and sequenced by other laboratories, also utilize the DSP 2.10 sequence, but neither antibody binds to alpha IIb beta 3. From a comparison of the H3 sequences of these antibodies, we have developed a molecular model of the H3 loop region which can explain these differences in specificity. This model predicts that both the ability to bind to alpha IIb beta 3 and the activation dependence of that binding are a function of the orientation and, therefore, accessibility of the RYD sequence. This model and refinements thereof can be exploited to study the molecular basis for specificity and affinity of RGD-containing ligands for integrins.