Background: It is commonly accepted that antibody-mediated removal of platelets represents a major mechanism of platelet destruction in immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP). Although complement activation may participate in platelet clearance, frequency and specificity of complement activation have not yet been studied systematically in ITP. Patients and methods: We examined blood samples from 240 patients with ITP. Samples were assessed for the presence of free and bound platelet autoantibodies by a standard glycoprotein-specific assay (monoclonal antibody-specific immobilization of platelet antigens). The ability of all sera to fix complement to a panel of human platelets was investigated in a complement fixation (CF) assay. Fixation of C1q to isolated GP IIb/IIIa was assessed by flow cytometry. Results: Glycoprotein-specific autoantibodies were detected as platelet-bound antibodies in 129 (54%) and as additional free antibodies in 26 (11%) and were undetectable in 111 (46%) patients. Assessing these subgroups for CF, 103 (65%), 21 (81%), and 33 (30%) sera gave positive results. If GP IIb/IIIa was absent from the test platelets, 81 (67%) lost their ability to fix complement; if GP Ib/IX was absent, 37 (30%) lost their ability to fix complement. C1q fixation to immunobeads coated with GP IIb/IIIa was observed in 50% of sera containing anti-GP IIb/IIIa antibodies. Conclusions: In a significant number of patients with chronic ITP, platelet autoantibodies are capable of activating the classical complement pathway. CF is even present in ITP sera without detectable autoantibodies, indicating that current techniques for autoantibody detection may be insufficient. The major targets for complement-fixing autoantibodies in ITP are GP IIb/IIIa and GP Ib/IX.