The binding of [3H]PAF-acether (1-O-alkyl-2-acetyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine) to intact human gel-filtered platelets was measured at 22 degrees C. Specific binding reached saturation within 15 min at high doses of [3H]PAF-acether (0.5-0.9 nM), whereas about 90 min were required when low doses (0.02-0.5 nM) were used. Above 1 nM, [3H]PAF-acether non-specific binding increased progressively, which together with the demonstration of a 3H-labelled metabolite suggested uptake and metabolism of [3H]PAF-acether. Equilibrium analysis revealed one class of specific receptors with a Ka of 18.86 +/- 4.82 X 10(9) M-1 and 242 +/- 64 binding sites per platelet. Non-equilibrium binding revealed a similar Ka (16.87 X 10(9) M-1). Specific binding became irreversible after prolonged incubation, a process that was enhanced at increasing concentrations of [3H]PAF-acether. Platelets made desensitized to PAF-acether by prior incubation with unlabelled PAF-acether failed to bind a second dose of PAF-acether (3H-labelled), suggesting that desensitization resulted from loss of available binding sites. Under the conditions of the binding studies, PAF-acether induced exposure of the fibrinogen receptor, aggregation (in a stirred suspension) and alterations in (poly)-phosphatidylinositides. These results suggest that PAF-acether initiates platelet responses via receptor-mediated processes.