Glanzmann thrombasthenia (GT) is the most common inherited disorder of platelets. Most of the molecular defects previously identified in GT have been caused by point (or other small) mutations in the genes for glycoprotein (GP) IIb or GPIIIa. We have used single-strand conformation polymorphism (SSCP) analysis to rapidly identify single- base changes in the GPIIIa gene. Using genomic DNA from normal individuals and patients with GT, each GPIIIa exon and a short stretch of flanking intronic sequence was amplified, heat-denatured, and separated in nondenaturing acrylamide gels. Only those fragments with an abnormal migration pattern were isolated and the nucleotide sequence determined. Using SSCP, we detected the polymorphism in the HPA-1 (P1A) system and all three known silent polymorphisms in the GPIIIa gene. Screening 14 GPIIIa exons from 5 patients with GT, one mutant allele was identified. The nucleotide sequence of the abnormal 240-bp SSCP fragment was determined and a G-->A substitution in the splice donor site of exon iv was identified. Analysis of platelet RNA resulting from this mutation showed two mRNA species: one contained a deletion of exon iv, whereas the other had a 27-bp addition to exon iv due to the use of a cryptic splice site in the downstream intron. Single-base substitutions are the most common mutation in GT and often result in abnormal mRNA splicing. SSCP is a rapid and sensitive technique for identifying mutations or polymorphisms in the GPIIIa gene.