Autoantibodies against platelet glycoproteins (GP) have been demonstrated in patients with autoimmune thrombocytopenic purpura (ATP). However, their clinical and pathogenetic significance as well as their response to immunosuppressive treatment is unknown. Using an immunobead assay capable of measuring autoantibodies against GPIIb-IIIa and GPIb-IX, we studied 58 adult patients with active ATP (platelet count < 150 x 10(9)/L) and 26 patients with ATP in remission (platelet count > 150 x 10(9)/L and without any therapy at time of investigation). Platelet-associated autoantibodies were detected in 39 of 53 patients with active ATP (73.6%) and in 2 of 26 patients in remission (7.7%). Circulating plasma autoantibodies were noted in 17 of 58 patients in the group with active disease (29.3%) and in none of the patients in remission. Twelve patients with active ATP and autoantibodies against GPIIb-IIIa were studied prospectively during treatment with corticosteroids. Of eight patients whose platelet count normalized during treatment, platelet-associated and plasma antibodies decreased significantly in two or became undetectable in six. In contrast, of four patients whose platelet counts were unchanged or increased moderately, we noted no significant change in antibodies. Moreover, autoantibodies reappeared in two responding patients at the time of relapse. The effect of high-dose intravenous immunoglobulin was studied in six active ATP patients with antiglycoprotein autoantibodies and refractoriness to prednisone. In one patient who developed a sustained remission after IvIgG, platelet-associated and plasma antibodies to GPIIb-IIIa decreased and became undetectable. In contrast, two patients who had only a transient rise of the platelet count after IvIgG showed no significant change in autoantibody. In three unresponsive patients, autoantibodies were without change in two and decreased transiently in one patient. We conclude that in ATP the presence of autoantibodies to GPIIb-IIIa and GPIb-IX is related to the activity of the disease. Corticosteroids may inhibit autoantibody formation in some ATP patients, whereas during the early response to IvIgG, autoantibody production may not be affected.