Increased platelet aggregation has been suggested to play a role in the accelerated atherosclerosis of diabetics. However the physiological relevance of the aggregation tests has been questioned. The purpose of this study was to determine platelet activation in diabetic patients, using a novel device--the cone and plate(let) analyzer--to measure shear-induced platelet adhesion and aggregation on extracellular matrix (ECM). Whole blood platelet adhesion and aggregation in patients with noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (n=82) and in nondiabetic controls (n=71) were compared. Clinical and laboratory characteristics of the diabetic patients were analyzed for possible correlation with parameters of platelet activity. Patients with diabetes had a significantly increased platelet activation compared to nondiabetic subjects, demonstrated by an increased adhesion to the ECM (surface coverage, 23% [95% confidence interval, 22-25%] vs. 19% [95% confidence interval, 18-20%], respectively) and an increased average size of the ECM-bound aggregates (54 microm2 [95% confidence interval, 51-57 microm2] vs. 47 microm2 [95% confidence interval, 43-51 microm2], respectively). Platelet adhesion in the diabetic group was found to correlate with triglyceride levels (r=0.36) and hematocrit values (r=0.31) and inversely with high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (r=0.30). There were no correlation, however, between parameters of platelet reactivity and duration of diabetes, vascular complications and low-density lipoprotein levels. Our data demonstrate an increased platelet adhesion and aggregation in diabetic patients and suggest a modulatory role of diabetic dyslipidemia.