To define regions within fibronectin (Fn) recognized by platelet binding sites, inhibition of Fn binding by an Fn fragment and synthetic peptides has been analyzed. A highly purified 120-kDa chymotryptic fragment, which has cell attachment activity but did not bind to insolubilized heparin or gelatin, inhibited Fn binding to platelets with an ID50 approximately 3 microM. Previous work indicates that fibroblasts attach to an 11.5-kDa subfragment of this 120-kDa fragment, and that one of four 30-residue synthetic peptides containing sequences from this region supports cell attachment. Only the peptide containing the COOH terminus of the 11.5-kDa fragment inhibited Fn binding to platelets, with an ID50 approximately 10 microM and is the peptide which supports fibroblast attachment. Of the smaller peptides studied from this sequence, all peptides containing the Arg-Gly-Asp-Ser sequence, including the tetrapeptide itself, were active in inhibiting Fn binding to platelets (ID50 values approximately 10-20 microM). The same peptides support fibroblast attachment. Those which lacked this sequence including Gly-Asp-Ser-Pro and Thr-Gly-Arg-Gly (immediately adjacent tetrapeptides) lacked both activities. Further evidence for specificity of inhibition was provided by structurally modified peptides in which substitution of a Glu for Asp abolished inhibitory activity and substitution of Lys for Arg or Ala for Gly reduced activity 6- and 8-fold, respectively. In addition, Arg-Gly-Asp-Ser-containing peptides inhibited the rate and extent of thrombin-induced platelet aggregation. These data suggest that the Arg-Gly-Asp-Ser tetrapeptide contains a recognition specificity involved in the binding of Fn to platelets and that platelets share features of this recognition specificity with fibroblasts.