The bleeding diathesis associated with congenital deficiency of factor XI (FXI) is variable and correlates poorly with standard coagulation assays. Platelets are reported to contain FXI activity that may substitute for the plasma protein. The presence of this platelet activity in some patients deficient in plasma FXI could partly explain the variable bleeding associated with the deficiency state. Polyclonal antibodies to plasma FXI recognize a 220 kD platelet membrane protein distinct in structure from plasma FXI. The messenger RNA (mRNA) coding for this protein has been postulated to be an alternatively spliced FXI message lacking the fifth exon found in the liver (wild type) message. We analyzed RNA from platelets, leukocytes, and bone marrow for FXI mRNA by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) technology. Single FXI mRNA species were identified by RT-PCR in platelet and bone marrow RNA, but not leukocyte RNA, that are the same size as the message from liver RNA. Sequencing of PCR products confirmed that the FXI mRNA species in platelets is identical to the one in liver. Wild-type FXI mRNA was also identified in three leukemia cell lines with megakaryocyte features (MEG-01, HEL 92.1.7, and CHRF-288-11). The data show that platelets contain wild-type FXI mRNA. FXI protein, therefore, may be present in platelets and may be released during platelet activation. The data do not support the premise that the 220 kD platelet protein that cross-reacts with FXI antibodies is a product of an alternatively spliced mRNA from the FXI gene.