The secretory and aggregation responses of stirred platelets exposed to complement proteins C5b-9 was investigated. C5b-9 assembly on the platelet surface resulted in the release of dense granule adenosine triphosphate (ATP) accompanied by a decrease in sample turbidity, but no detectable cell lysis. Inhibition of cellular protein kinase C completely blocked the C5b-9 initiated release of ATP, confirming the secretory nature of this response. Addition of fibrinogen (up to 1 mg/mL) had no effect on either the release of ATP or the decreased turbidity observed for C5b-9 cells. Addition of the peptides Arg-Gly- Asp-Ser (RGDS) and fibrinogen gamma-chain carboxyl-terminal (gamma 397- 411) at concentrations sufficient to completely block fibrinogen binding to GP IIb-IIIa had no effect on either C5b-9 induced dense granule secretion or the associated turbidity change. Microscopic examination and electronic particle counting of the stirred platelet suspensions confirmed that no aggregation of C5b-9 platelets occurred even when these cells were stirred in the presence of fibrinogen. The capacity of the C5b-9 proteins to initiate platelet secretion without activation of cell surface glycoprotein (GP) IIb-IIIa suggests a mechanism for intravascular dissemination of activated platelets during complement activation in vivo.