Antibodies that bind to human platelet membrane glycoproteins IIb and IIIa were used to develop methods for analyzing platelet membrane components by flow cytometry. Platelets were tentatively identified by their low-intensity light scatter profiles in whole blood or platelet-rich plasma preparations. Identification of this cell population as platelets was verified by using platelet-specific antibodies and fluorescein-conjugated antiimmunoglobulin. Two-parameter analysis of light scatter versus fluorescence intensity identified greater than 98% of the cells in the "platelet" light scatter profile as platelets due to their acquired fluorescence. Both platelet-rich plasma and whole blood were used to study platelet membrane glycoproteins IIb and IIIa on a single cell basis in an unwashed system. Prostacycline was included in these preparations as a precautionary step to inhibit platelet aggregation during analysis. Flow cytometry is a successful technique for rapid detection of platelet membrane defects such as Glanzmann's thrombasthenia. Platelets from Glanzmann's thrombasthenic individuals were readily distinguished from platelets with normal levels of glycoprotein IIb and IIIa and from platelets with glycoprotein levels characteristic of heterozygote carriers of this disorder. This technique provides a sensitive tool for investigating platelet functional defects due to altered expression or deficiency of platelet surface proteins.