Formation of a hemostatic plug represents one of the earliest responses to vessel wall injury. Platelets react to any discontinuity in the vascular endothelium through initial contact, spreading, and formation of a thrombus (or aggregate). This development of a primary hemostatic plug requires platelet membrane receptors through which the adhesive macromolecules, von Willebrand factor (vWF) and fibrinogen, anchor platelets to the vessel wall and link them to each other. There are two receptor pathways--classic and alternative--for the binding of vWF to platelets; the latter induced by thrombin, and adenosine diphosphate (ADP) is shared with fibrinogen. Synthetic peptides, patterned after known binding domains of adhesive molecules, have been designed to inhibit their interactions with platelet receptors. A secondary hemostatic plug, composed of platelets enmeshed in fibrin, results from the action of thrombin, which is not only essential for formation of fibrin but also for exposure of platelet receptors for adhesive molecules and for "activation" of factors V and VIII. Thrombin generation is greatly enhanced through the activity of the prothrombinase complex formed on the surface of platelets, perturbed endothelial cells, and leukocytes. A pivotal event is activation of factor X through the intrinsic and extrinsic coagulation pathways. Binding of factors IXa and VIIa to the vascular endothelium represents a localized mechanism for factor Xa generation. Formation of a platelet and fibrin thrombus is controlled by regulatory mechanism: prostacyclin, endogenous heparin-antithrombin III complex, thrombomodulin-protein C-protein S system, and the fibrinolytic system. The balance of all components--vessel wall, platelets, adhesive and coagulation proteins, regulatory mechanisms--determines the effectiveness of the hemostatic plug in maintaining the structural and functional integrity of the circulatory system. An approach to detection of hemostatic derangements in patients at risk evolves from a full understanding of inherited and acquired deficiencies affecting each step of hemostatic plug formation and from selective use of laboratory tests.