The objective of the present study was to characterize the interaction between human platelets and vaccinia virus and to examine possible impairment of platelet functions. The vaccinia virus was selected for our model system because it lacks detectable neuraminidase activity. Platelets were incubated with purified viral particles labeled with 3H- thymidine and binding parameters were analyzed. Binding reached saturation with an average of 5 particles/platelet. It was not affected by the plasma but was sensitive to temperature and to metabolic inhibitors. 3H-thymidine-labeled vaccinia virus and formaldehyde-fixed platelets were used to measure viral adsorption. The adsorption was temperature-independent but was affected by ionic strength, indicating electrostatic interactions. Treatment of the fixed platelets with neuraminidase or with alkaline phosphatase reduced viral adsorption, indicating that sialate and phosphate residues on the platelet surface may be involved in the adsorption. Platelet activities were markedly affected by vaccinia virus. The virus caused a dramatic 14C-serotonin release with no added inducer. The release was inhibited by aspirin, a known inhibitor of serotonin release related to prostaglandin synthesis. Furthermore, the virus inhibited platelet aggregation, induced by either ADP, collagen, or thrombin. This study demonstrates that although vaccinia virus lacks neuraminidase activity, it does bind to platelets and affects their function.