BACKGROUND: Platelet function is directly influenced by lipoproteins, and platelets from hypercholesterolemic patients display increased reactivity which is related to initiation, progression, and development of thromboembolic complications in atherosclerosis. But the exact mechanism of this effect is unclear. METHODS: In this study, total and activated numbers of platelet glycoprotein (Gp) IIb/IIIa were evaluated in twenty patients (7 men; age, 55.4+/-8.7 years) with hypercholesterolemia (plasma total cholesterol level over 240 mg/dL and normal triglyceride level) and twenty one subjects (8 men; 51.1+/-13.7 years) with normal plasma cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Flow cytometry was used to detect the binding of fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC)-conjugated anti-CD41 or PAC1 to platelet Gp IIb<1/4>/<1/4>IIIa in whole blood. When whole blood was incubated with PAC1, platelets were also activated with adenosine diphosphate (ADP) or thrombin. RESULTS: PAC1 was more bound to unstimulated platelets from patients with hypercholesterolemia (p<0.005), and binding of PAC1 correlated significantly with plasma total cholesteol (r=0.48, p=0.002) and LDL-cholesterol (r=0.47, p=0.002) levels. Binding of PAC1 to unstimulated platelets increased as binding of anti-CD41 increased (r=0.40, p=0.01). On multivariate linear regression analysis, plasma total cholesterol level and binding of anti-CD41 were independent variables that determined binding of PAC1. After ADP- or thrombin-stimulation, binding of PAC1 to platelets and percentage of antibody positive cells were also greater in patients with hypercholesterolemia (p<0.05). There was a significant positive correlation between mean platelet volume and binding of anti-CD41 to unstimulated platelets (r=0.46, p<0.0050), but the latter was not different between hypercholesterolemia and control groups. CONCLUSION: Unstimulated platelets from patients with hypercholesterolemia had similar total number of Gp IIb/IIIa to those from control subjects, but had more activated Gp IIb/IIIa. After ADP- or thrombin-stimulation, platelet Gp IIb/IIIa was also more activated under hypercholesterolemia.