Using the standard turbidimetric method of platelet aggregation and quantitation of platelet secretion with 14C-Serotonin, we have examined the responsiveness of the platelets of mongrel dogs to arachidonic acid (AA), and the thromboxane agonist U46619 in the presence and absence of a subthreshold concentration of epinephrine. In response to stimulation with 750 microM AA, the platelets of 18 dogs produced irreversible aggregation (Group I), the platelets of 22 dogs showed, at most, reversible aggregation (Group II), while the platelets of 8 dogs demonstrated no aggregatory response (Group III). In the presence of AA and a subthreshold concentration of epinephrine (0.5 microM), the platelets of all three groups demonstrated enhanced aggregatory and secretory responses although the extent of 14C-Serotonin secretion differed significantly between all three groups. These in vitro differences in platelet aggregation correlate with the in vivo deposition of platelets onto synthetic vascular grafts and the maintenance of graft patency. When stimulated with 0.5 microM U46619 and a subthreshold concentration of epinephrine, the platelets of 97% Group I dogs and 75% of Group II dogs exhibited irreversible aggregation, while the platelets of all Group III dogs showed only reversible aggregation. In addition, significant differences in the extent of 14C-Serotonin secretion to this combination of agonists were observed between groups. Further examination of the specific effects of U46619 on canine platelets revealed that although the aggregatory and secretory responses to U46619 vary between the different canine platelet populations, the threshold concentration of U46619 required to produce platelet shape change is identical among all groups. Quantitation of the stable metabolite of AA produced via the cyclooxygenase pathway, thromboxane B2 (TxB2), revealed no significant differences in the production of TxB2 by the platelets of these different populations upon stimulation with AA. Our results suggest that the mechanisms underlying the differences in responsiveness of canine platelets to AA, are likely due to differences in sensitivity of canine platelets to TxA2, and may be localized to the mechanism responsible for mediating platelet aggregation and secretion in response to TxA2.