Synthetic thrombin receptor peptides (TRPs), comprising the first 6-14 amino acids of the new N-terminus tethered ligand of the thrombin receptor that is generated by thrombin's proteolytic activity, were reported to activate platelets equally with thrombin itself and are considered to be full agonists [Vu et al. (1991) Cell 64, 1057-1068]. Using aspirin plus ADP-scavengers or the ADP-receptor antagonist adenosine 5′-[alpha-thio]triphosphate to prevent the secondary effects of the potent agonists that are normally released from stimulated platelets (i.e. ADP and thromboxane A2), we assessed the direct actions of thrombin and TRPs (i.e. TRP42-47 and TRP42-55). Compared with thrombin, under these conditions, TRPs: (1) failed to aggregate platelets completely; (2) produced less activation of glycoprotein (GP)IIb-IIIa; (3) did not cause association of GPIIb and pp60c-src with the cytoskeleton; and (4) caused less alpha-granule secretion, phosphorylation of cytoplasmic phospholipase A2, arachidonic acid release and phosphatidyl inositol (PtdOH) production. Furthermore, TRPs induced transient increases in protein phosphorylation mediated by protein kinase C and protein tyrosine phosphorylation, whereas these same responses to thrombin were greater and more sustained. Hirudin added after thrombin accelerated protein dephosphorylation, thereby mimicking the rate of spontaneous dephosphorylation seen after stimulation by TRPs. Platelets totally desensitized to very high concentrations of TRPs, by prior exposure to maximally effective concentrations of the peptides, remained responsive to alpha- and gamma-thrombins. Thrombin-stimulated PtdOH production in permeabilized platelets desensitized to TRPs was abolished by guanosine 5′-[beta-thio]diphosphate (GDP[beta S]), as in normal platelets. These results are discussed in terms of the allosteric Ternary Complex Model for G-protein linked receptors [Samama et al. (1993) J. Biol. Chem. 268, 4625-4636]. We conclude that: (1) TRPs are partial agonists for the thrombin receptor and produce incomplete receptor desensitization in keeping with their lower intrinsic activity; (2) thrombin's effects in platelets, even in TRP-desensitized platelets, are entirely mediated through the recently cloned G-protein linked receptor, and (3) thrombin's ability to produce sustained signals, compared with TRPs, may require the continued progressive proteolytic activation of naive thrombin receptors.

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