P-selectin is a 140-kD protein found in the alpha-granules of platelets and the Weibel-Palade bodies of endothelial cells that on cell activation is expressed on the cell surface and also secreted into the plasma. The secreted form of P-selectin, like plasma P-selectin, differed from platelet membrane P-selectin in that its molecular mass was approximately 3 kD lower under reducing conditions. Both the secreted and plasma forms of P-selectin contained cytoplasmic sequence as determined by Western blot analysis with an affinity-purified rabbit anti-P-selectin cytoplasmic peptide antibody. We have measured plasma P- selectin and beta-thromboglobulin (beta TG) concurrently in (1) patients with consumptive thrombotic disorders, including disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT), and thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP)/haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS); (2) patients with idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP); and (3) healthy controls. Patients with DIC, HIT, and TTP/HUS, but not ITP, had significantly elevated plasma P-selectin and beta TG levels when compared with their age-matched healthy controls. The increased plasma P-selectin and beta TG in patients with thrombotic disorders were likely to be the result of in vivo platelet and endothelial cell damage or activation. We also found that avoidance of veno-occlusion and other tedious measures customarily taken during blood collection and sample preparation to prevent in vitro platelet activation did not affect plasma P-selectin assay results. In addition, plasma P-selectin levels were not influenced by the presence of renal failure or heparin administration. These results indicate that plasma P- selectin may be a useful new marker for thrombotic diseases.