In order to assess the importance of glycosphingolipids (GSL) in the immunology of the platelet, serum antibody binding to immobilized, purified platelet GSLs have been quantitatively measured via high- performance thin-layer chromatography (HPTLC), 125I-radio- immunolabeling, autoradiography, and densitometry. Thirteen neutral GSL bands were detected at Rf.03 through .64 (CHCl3-CH3OH-H2O, 65:25:4) after extraction and chromatography (DEAE-Sephadex and Bio-sil A). Both IgM and IgG serum antibody binding was determined for 50 subjects from four groups: normal blood donors (NBD, n = 18); leukemia patients with nonimmune thrombocytopenia (NIT, n = 10); patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, n = 10); and patients with chronic autoimmune thrombocytopenia (CATP, n = 12). The ABO typing of these 50 subjects also allowed correlation of serum antibody binding with A blood group antigen expression. These studies reveal: (1) anti-GSL binding at band .06 is associated with blood group A alloantigen expression for both IgG and IgM (P less than .0001) antibodies; (2) binding at bands .17, .27, and/or .46 is associated with general autoimmunity (SLE and CATP) for IgM (P less than .0001); (3) binding at bands .35 and/or .38 is associated with platelet-specific autoimmunity (CATP) for IgG and/or IgM (P less than .005); and (4) binding at bands .03, .20, .23, and/or .43 is frequently observed for sera from all groups. The platelet specificity of bands .35 and .38 was confirmed by comparative studies with human intestinal smooth muscle GSLs. Quantitation of the intensity of CATP-associated anti-GSL binding (86 +/- 88 mm2) is comparable to anti-A alloantigen binding (57 +/- 52 mm2). Two of the GSL bands associated with SLE and CATP appear to be the long-chain fatty-acyl forms of globotriaosyl ceramide (.27) and globotetraosyl ceramide (.17), which are the Pk and P blood group antigens, respectively. These studies indicate that neutral GSLs may be important antigens in both autoimmune and alloimmune processes involving the blood platelet.