The effect of red blood cells, rbc, and shear rate on the ADP-induced aggregation of platelets in whole blood, WB, flowing through polyethylene tubing was studied using a previously described technique (1). Effluent WB was collected into 0.5% glutaraldehyde and the red blood cells removed by centrifugation through Percoll. At 23 degrees C the rate of single platelet aggregation was upt to 9 x greater in WB than previously found in platelet-rich plasma (2) at mean tube shear rates G = 41.9, 335, and 1,920 s-1, and at both 0.2 and 1.0 microM ADP. At 0.2 microM ADP, the rate of aggregation was greatest at G = 41.9 s-1 over the first 1.7 s mean transit time through the flow tube, t, but decreased steadily with time. At G greater than or equal to 335 s-1 the rate of aggregation increased between t = 1.7 and 8.6 s; however, aggregate size decreased with increasing shear rate. At 1.0 microM ADP, the initial rate of single platelet aggregation was still highest at G = 41.9 s-1 where large aggregates up to several millimeters in diameter containing rbc formed by t = 43 s. At this ADP concentration, aggregate size was still limited at G greater than or equal to 335 s-1 but the rate of single platelet aggregation was markedly greater than at 0.2 microM ADP. By t = 43 s, no single platelets remained and rbc were not incorporated into aggregates. Although aggregate size increased slowly, large aggregates eventually formed. White blood cells were not significantly incorporated into aggregates at any shear rate or ADP concentration. Since the present technique did not induce platelet thromboxane A2 formation or cause cell lysis, these experiments provide evidence for a purely mechanical effect of rbc in augmenting platelet aggregation in WB.