Platelet dysfunction has a major contribution in bleeding after cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) and transfusion of platelets is frequently used to secure haemostasis. Allogeneic platelets prepared for transfusion are functionally impaired. Autologous platelets harvested preoperatively require a shorter storage time before transfusion and their use also avoids the risks associated with transfusion of allogeneic blood products. For the first time, we have compared the functional quality of autologous platelets with allogeneic platelets prepared by two methods, immediately before infusion. Platelet activation was assessed by P-selectin expression and fibrinogen binding using flow cytometry. We also monitored the effects of CPB surgery and re-infusion of autologous platelets on platelet function. Autologous platelet-rich plasma (PRP) contained a significantly lower (P < 0.05) percentage of P-selectin-positive and fibrinogen-positive platelets compared with allogeneic platelet preparations, and also contained a significantly higher (P < 0.05) percentage of responsive platelets. Allogeneic platelets prepared by donor apheresis were more activated and less responsive than those produced by centrifugation of whole blood. In patients' blood, the percentage of platelets expressing P-selectin or binding fibrinogen increased significantly after CPB (P < 0.05), while the percentage of platelets responsive to in vitro agonists was decreased (P < 0.05 in autologous transfusion patients), consistent with platelet activation during the procedure. The percentage of activated platelets decreased (statistically not significant) after re-infusion of autologous PRP. P-selectin expression had returned to pre-CPB levels 24 h post-operatively. Autologous platelet preparations display minimal activation, but remain responsive. Conservation of platelet function may contribute to the potential clinical benefits of autologous transfusion in cardiopulmonary bypass.