Activation of protein kinase C (PKC), as revealed by phosphorylation of a 47 kd protein (p47), occurs in platelets stimulated by some agonists (eg, thrombin or phorbol esters). It is not known if activation of PKC occurs with pairs of agonists, such as epinephrine and A23187, that do not individually phosphorylate p47, nor is it known what role the concentration of cytoplasmic Ca++ ([Ca++]i) plays in these events. We stimulated aequorin-loaded platelets with subaggregating concentrations of epinephrine and A23187, neither of which by itself phosphorylated p47. The combination of agonists resulted in p47 phosphorylation, an increase in platelet-bound fibrinogen, and aggregation, but only if the concentration of each agonist was sufficient to increase [Ca++]i if it was added separately. Subaggregating concentrations of A23187 alone released platelet fibrinogen and increased platelet membrane binding of [3H]-phorbol dibutyrate, but these were not enhanced by epinephrine. Epinephrine and A23187 did not increase production of diacylglycerol. Thus, epinephrine and A23187 together activate PKC by a mechanism that does not require phospholipase C or enhanced binding of PKC to the plasma membrane; PKC activation in turn is correlated with enhanced platelet fibrinogen binding and aggregation. These events require an initial elevation of [Ca++]i above a threshold.

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