Diabetes mellitus is associated with aggravated development of vascular complications. Yet, it has not been established whether platelet hyperreactivity contributes as a pathogenetic factor. In order to study the role of activated platelets in diabetes mellitus, we investigated the expression of the membrane activation markers CD63 (GP53) and CD62 (GMP-140) as direct indicators of in vivo activation. The CD63-positive fraction was significantly higher in patients (6.1% X 3.7 +/- 1) than in controls (2.7% X 3 +/- 1). In parallel, the CD62-positive fraction was significantly elevated in patients to 5% X 2.5 +/- 1 in comparison to controls (3% X 2 +/- 1). Patients with angiopathy had a mean increase of 304% in CD63-positive and of 223% in CD62-positive platelets. Patients without clinically detectable angiopathy showed a trend to an increased fraction in CD63-/CD62-positive platelets. There was no correlation of the activation markers with fasting blood glucose, HbA1 or platelet count. CD63 platelet bound fluorescence significantly increased with platelet size in the patient group. We conclude that in diabetes mellitus an increased number of large platelets circulate in an activated state predominantly in patients with angiopathy. This could imply that platelets become activated by vascular lesions. The trend in patients without vascular disease, however, suggests that activated platelets may also basically contribute to the prethrombotic state in diabetes mellitus.