Glanzmann thrombasthenia is a rare, inherited disorder of the platelet glycoprotein IIb/IIIa (GP IIb/IIIa) complex. We previously identified two distinct populations with this disorder in Israel, Iraqi-Jews and Arabs. The groups are indistinguishable in hemorrhagic symptoms and platelet GP IIB/IIIa receptor deficiency, but they differ in their platelet immunodetectable GP IIIa (beta 3), with the Iraqi-Jewish population expressing no detectable GP IIIa and the Arab population expressing small amounts. We have now examined the platelets of these two populations as well as normal platelets for the alpha v beta 3 vitronectin receptor. Normal platelets contained between approximately 50 to 100 alpha v beta 3 vitronectin receptors as judged by the binding of antibodies to both alpha v (LM142) and the intact alpha v beta 3 vitronectin receptor complex (LM609). In addition, normal platelets bound to immobilized vitronectin in the presence of 1 mmol/LMnCl2; the adhesion was mediated predominantly through GP IIb/IIIa, but with a distinct contribution by the alpha v beta 3 vitronectin receptor, as determined by monoclonal antibody inhibition studies. Iraqi-Jewish patients' platelets had a profound decrease in immunodetectable alpha v beta 3 vitronectin receptors, and their platelets did not adhere well to vitronectin. In contrast, Arab patients' platelets had normal or increased numbers of platelet alpha v beta 3 vitronectin receptors, and these receptors functioned well in the vitronectin adhesion assay, taking over much of the adhesion mediated by GP IIb/IIIa in normal platelets. These studies define further the heterogeneity of the molecular basis of Glanzmann thrombasthenia; they also have more widespread implications for understanding the synthesis and function of the beta 3 family of integrin receptors.