Chronic idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) is caused by an antibody reactive with platelet-associated antigens. The present studies provide direct evidence that some patients with chronic ITP have autoantibodies against the platelet glycoprotein (GP) IIb/IIIa complex. Microtiter wells, coated with a monoclonal antibody (2G12) specific for GPIIb/GPIIIa were reacted with GPIIb/GPIIIa contained in a platelet extract. Control wells containing the same antibody were reacted with a cell extract containing no GPIIb/GPIIIa. After washing, the wells were reacted with patient or control plasma, and IgG binding was detected using 125I-Fab2-anti-human IgG. Assay values were expressed as binding ratios (cpm GPIIb/GPIIIa wells/cpm control wells). Plasma from 5 of 56 patients with chronic ITP had ratios (1.36-3.14) greater than 3 standard deviations above the mean (+/- SD) of control plasmas--0.93 +/- 0.12. Elevated values were also noted in two patients with anti-P1A1 antibody (ratios greater than 30) and in one patient with Hodgkin's disease and an ITP-like syndrome (ratio 1.53). Normal values were noted in 34 patients with a variety of immune and nonimmune diseases. Plasma from two of the positive ITP patients was reacted with 125I-surface-labeled platelets and, after solubilization, the IgG and bound antigen were precipitated with Staph-A. Autoradiographs from SDS-PAGE electrophoresis of the Staph-A-bound proteins shows two radioactive bands consistent in size with GPIIb and GPIIIa.