Glycoprotein (GP) IIb-IIIa antagonists inhibit the aggregation of activated platelets. Three agents are approved for clinical use. In this review, the characteristics of each agent, their pharmacodynamic profile, results in pivotal clinical trials and the associated clinical implications are discussed. GP IIb-IIIa antagonists have greatest benefit when used as adjunctive therapy during percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) when the patient has intra-coronary thrombosis. These agents appear to provide greatest benefit when used in combination with heparin. The clinical niche for parenteral GP IIb-IIIa antagonists is evolving. The rapid onset and offset of GP IIb-IIIa antagonists plus dosing designed to inhibit extensively platelet aggregation differentiates them from oral agents. The contemporary niche appears to include patients in transition, such as individuals requiring emergent PCI before oral agents are fully active and for unstable patients requiring transport to PCI centres, particularly in patients likely to have intracoronary thrombus. Subsequent studies should evaluate the optimal duration of therapy with GP IIb-IIIa antagonists.