Platelets contain mitogenic activities for MCF-7 human breast cancer cells when assayed under serum-free chemically defined conditions. Purification from outdated human platelets identified insulinlike growth factor I (IGF-I) as the most potent breast cancer cell mitogen in lysates (Karey KP, Sirbasku DA: see accompanying article, this issue). In this study the release and subcellular localization of IGF-I was investigated. Degranulation of platelets by thrombin treatment caused release of lysosomal enzymes (beta-glucuronidase and N-acetyl-D- glucosaminidase), alpha-granule proteins (beta-thromboglobulin and fibrinogen) as well as mitogenic activity for MCF-7 cells and IGF-I as measured by radioimmunoassay (RIA) and radioreceptor assay. Release of mitogenic activity and immunologically identified IGF-I was induced tenfold over controls by thrombin and was nearly complete as compared to platelets disrupted by repeated freezing and thawing. Disruption of platelets by nitrogen cavitation followed by separation of the organelles by sucrose density gradient sedimentation showed that IGF-I and mitogenic activity localized predominantly to fractions containing alpha-granules rather than soluble cellular components, lysosomes, or dense granules. The morphology of MCF-7 cells in serum-free medium supplemented with supernatants from thrombin-treated platelets also indicated the release of important cell-adhesion factors for human breast cancer cells.