It is known that at 37 degrees C plasmin may have two opposite effects on platelets: at high concentrations (greater than 1.5 caseinolytic units [CU]/mL), plasmin activates platelets; at lower concentrations (0.1 to 1.0 CU/mL) it inhibits platelet activation induced by thrombin, collagen, or calcium ionophore A23187. In this study, we report that when lowering the incubation temperature to 22 degrees C, plasmin at low concentrations (0.1 to 0.5 CU/mL) fully activated platelets. When platelets were treated with 0.2 CU/mL of plasmin, lowering the incubation temperature from 37 degrees C to 22 degrees C resulted in an increase in the expression of fibrinogen receptors, in platelet release and aggregation. Thromboxane A2 was not generated by plasmin treatment at either temperature. Ultrastructural studies showed that platelets responded to low-dose plasmin at 37 degrees C by forming pseudopods, centralizing granules without fibrinogen release, whereas at 22 degrees C the same dose of plasmin caused platelet degranulation with the appearance of alpha-granule fibrinogen within the lumen of the surface connected canalicular system. In addition, at 22 degrees C plasmin at doses insufficient to induce platelet aggregation potentiated platelet response to thrombin. Thus, we suggest that plasmin may initiate both activating and inhibitory processes within platelets and that the change of temperature could influence this balance. These results may be of clinical relevance, because the fibrinolytic system was found activated during cardiopulmonary bypass in which the temperature of patient's blood circulation was reduced. This temperature-dependent behavior is also an interesting model for a further study on platelet response to serine proteinases.