Twelve of 19 patients with myeloproliferative disorders showed a decrease of absence of the largest multimers of plasma von Willebrand factor (vWF) that correlated with elevated platelet counts but not with leukocyte counts. This suggested that platelets, rather than leukocytes, may be associated with the pathogenesis of the acquired vWF abnormality seen in these patients. To examine the hypothesis further, we studied 12 patients with reactive thrombocytosis after splenectomy. Increased platelet count (> 5 x 10(11)/L) after splenectomy was associated with vWF abnormalities indistinguishable from those detected in patients with myeloproliferative disorders. Accordingly, there was an inverse correlation between proportion of large vWF multimers and platelet, but not leukocyte, number: normalization of the platelet count was accompanied by restoration of a normal vWF multimeric pattern. These findings suggest that an increase in the number of platelets circulating in blood may favor the adsorption of larger vWF multimers onto the platelet membrane, resulting in their removal from the circulation and subsequent degradation.