A mechanism by which platelets might participate in fibrinolysis by binding plasminogen and influencing its activation has been examined. Binding of radioiodinated human Glu-plasminogen to washed human platelets was time-dependent and was enhanced 3-9-fold by stimulation of platelets with thrombin but not with ADP. The interaction with both stimulated and unstimulated cells was specific, saturable, divalent ion-independent, and reversible. The platelet-bound ligand had the molecular weight of plasminogen, and no conversion to plasmin was detected. Scatchard analyses provided evidence for a single class of plasminogen-binding sites on both stimulated and unstimulated cells. The Kd for thrombin-stimulated platelets was 2.6 +/- 1.3 microM, and 190,000 +/- 45,000 molecules were bound per cell, whereas unstimulated platelets bound 37,000 +/- 10,500 molecules/cell with a Kd of 1.9 +/- 0.15 microM. Plasminogen binding was inhibited in a dose-dependent manner by omega-aminocarboxylic acids at concentrations consistent with a requirement for an unoccupied high affinity lysine-binding site for plasminogen binding to the cells. When platelet-bound plasminogen was incubated with tissue plasminogen activator, urokinase, or streptokinase, gel analysis established that plasmin was preferentially associated with the platelet relative to the supernatant. Plasminogen and plasmin interacted with thrombin-stimulated platelets with similar binding characteristics, and there was no evidence for a binding site for plasmin which did not also bind plasminogen. Therefore, the results suggest that plasminogen activation is enhanced on the cell surface. In sum, these results indicate that platelets bind plasminogen at physiologic zymogen concentrations and this interaction may serve to localize and promote plasminogen activation.