We investigated the whole cell distribution of the platelet membrane receptor for fibrinogen in surface-activated human platelets. Fibrinogen-labeled colloidal gold was used in conjunction with platelet whole mount preparations to visualize directly the fibrinogen receptor. Unstimulated platelets fail to bind fibrinogen, and binding was minimal in the stages of activation immediately following adhesion. The amount of fibrinogen bound per platelet increased rapidly during the shape changes associated with surface activation until 7,600 +/- 500 labels were present at saturation. Maximal binding of fibrinogen was followed by receptor redistribution. During the early stages of spreading, fibrinogen labels were uniformly distributed over the entire platelet surface, including pseudopodia, but the labels become progressively centralized as the spreading process continued. In well spread platelets, labels were found over the central regions, whereas peripheral areas were cleared of receptors. Receptor redistribution during spreading was accompanied by cytoskeletal reorganization such that a direct correlation was seen between the development of specific ultrastructural zones and the distribution of surface receptor sites suggesting a link between the surface receptors and the cytoskeleton. The association of fibrinogen receptors with contractile elements of the cytoskeleton, which permits coordinated receptor centralization, is important to the understanding of the role of fibrinogen in normal platelet aggregation and clot retraction.