To determine if interleukin-6 (IL-6) administration influences platelet function, platelet activation was analyzed sequentially in IL-6-treated (80 micrograms/kg/d) and control dogs. Platelet activation was determined in whole blood by flow cytometry by quantitating the binding of a monoclonal antibody to platelet surface P-selectin after stimulation with graded doses of thrombin. Administration of IL-6 resulted in a twofold decrease in the thrombin concentration required for induction of half-maximal P-selectin expression (ED50) compared with control animals. The ED50 returned to normal after cessation of IL- 6 administration. As measured by P-selectin expression, enhanced responsiveness to the strong agonist platelet activating factor (PAF) was also observed in the IL-6-treated dogs. IL-6 had no effect on the susceptibility of platelets to thrombin activation when incubated with anticoagulated dog blood. The data show that, in addition to augmenting the platelet count in normal dogs, IL-6 enhances the sensitivity of platelets to activation in response to thrombin and PAF.