CD36 (glycoprotein [GP] IV) is a membrane GP of 88 kD found on monocytes, endothelial cells, and platelets. It may serve as a receptor for collagen and is also able to bind thrombospondin (TSP), because a monoclonal antibody to CD36 inhibits TSP binding to thrombin-stimulated platelets. In the following study, we investigated the subcellular distribution of CD36 within normal resting platelets, thrombin- stimulated platelets, and in cultured megakaryocytes (MK) by an immunogold staining technique and electron microscopy. We used an affinity-purified monospecific polyclonal antibody showing a single major band of precipitation at 88 kD via immunoblot analysis. In normal platelets, ultrastructural observation detected immunolabeling for CD36, homogeneously distributed along the platelet plasma membrane and in the luminal side of the open canalicular system (OCS). Moreover, some labeling was found around the alpha-granules along the inner face of their limiting membrane. An average of 70% of granules were labeled. The granule-associated pool of CD36 was estimated at approximately 25% of the total cell content. To exclude the possibility of a cross- reaction with GPIIb-IIIa, platelets from a patient with type I Glanzmann's thrombasthenia (which completely lack GPIIb-IIIa) were studied and showed a similar subcellular distribution of CD36, including alpha-granule membrane labeling. In activated platelets, CD36 was shown to be redistributed to the OCS and pseudopods of the plasma membrane. Platelets from a patient with the Gray platelet syndrome expressed CD36 on their plasma membrane, and some immunolabeling was also found within small abnormal alpha-granules. In cultured MK, CD36 immunolabeling was detected in the Golgi saccules, associated vesicles, immature alpha-granules, and demarcation membranes. In conclusion, this study shows the existence of a significant intragranular pool of CD36 in platelets that may play a critical role in the surface expression of alpha-granule TSP during platelet activation.