The autoimmune nature of chronic immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) in adults is widely accepted. In contrast, the pathogenetic mechanism in acute and chronic ITP in children is not known. In this report, we studied 39 children with destructive thrombocytopenia, 15 patients with acute ITP and 24 patients with chronic ITP. Platelet autoantibodies to platelet glycoprotein IIb/IIIa were detected in 14 of 24 patients (58.3%) in the chronic ITP group and in four of 15 (26.7%) with acute ITP. Binding ratios (+/- SD) of positive patients were significantly greater (P = .01) in chronic ITP (8.0 +/- 9.1) when compared with those of acute ITP where the binding ratios were only slightly above the normal range (1.9 +/- 0.4). The results show that autoantibodies against platelet glycoproteins are present in the majority of children with chronic ITP confirming the autoimmune nature of this disorder. The minimal elevation seen in the positive children with acute ITP suggests a different pathogenetic mechanism. These data suggest that this approach may be useful in differentiating acute from chronic ITP patients.