The platelet-membrane glycoprotein IIb-IIIa (GPIIb-IIIa) complex is essential for platelet aggregation and is involved in the attachment of platelets to thrombogenic surfaces. This study shows the retention of GPIIb and GPIIIa on immobilized fibrinogen after Triton X-100 (Sigma Chemical Co, St Louis, MO) lysis of adherent platelets. Glycoproteins were detected using subunit specific monoclonal antibodies in a modified enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay procedure. GPIIb-IIIa retention was judged to be specific relative to GPIb recovery, and was modulated by platelet activation. Platelet exposure to adenosine diphosphate or thrombin, but not A23187 or chymotrypsin, markedly enhanced GPIIb and GPIIIa recovery relative to that observed with unstimulated platelets, or prostaglandin E1-treated platelets. Moreover, lysis of adherent platelets in the presence of 10 mmol/L EDTA, under conditions promoting GPIIb-IIIa complex dissociation (pH 8.1, 60 minutes, 37 degrees C), had no effect on GPIIb or GPIIIa subunit recovery. Platelet activation with Zn+2 also enhanced GPIIb and GPIIIa recovery on fibrinogen-coated surfaces over that observed with unstimulated platelets, but GPIIb and IIIa retention was EDTA sensitive. This correlated with the EDTA-reversible nature of Zn+2- activated platelet adhesion to fibrinogen-coated surfaces. The data (1) show that platelet adhesion to fibrinogen is accompanied by the induction of high-affinity interactions between GPIIb-IIIa and immobilized fibrinogen that are EDTA-resistant and enhanced by platelet activation with some but not all agonists, and (2) implicate these interactions in stabilizing platelet contacts with fibrinogen-coated surfaces.