Platelets or thrombocytes are the cell fragments circulating in the blood that are involved in the cellular mechanisms of primary hemostasis leading to the formation of blood clots. Dysfunction or low levels of platelets predisposes to bleeding, while high levels, although usually asymptomatic, may increase the risk of thrombosis.
Platelets are activated when brought into contact with collagen (which is exposed when the endothelial blood vessel lining is damaged), thrombin (primarily through PAR-1), ADP receptors (P2Y1 and P2Y12) expressed on platelets, a negatively charged surface (e.g., glass), or several other activating factors. Once activated, they release a number of different coagulation factors and platelet activating factors. Platelet activation further results in the scramblase-mediated transport of negatively charged phospholipids to the platelet surface. These phospholipids provide a catalytic surface (with the charge provided by phosphatidylserine and phosphatidylethanolamine) for the tenase and prothrombinase complexes. The platelets adhere to each other via adhesion receptors or integrins, and to the endothelial cells in the wall of the blood vessel forming a haemostatic plug in conjunction with fibrin. The high concentration of myosin and actin filaments in platelets are stimulated to contract during aggregation, further reinforcing the plug. The most abundant platelet adhesion receptor is glycoprotein (GP) IIb/IIIa; this is a calcium-dependent receptor for fibrinogen, fibronectin, vitronectin, thrombospondin and von Willebrand factor (vWF). Other receptors include GPIb-V-IX complex (vWF) and GPVI (collagen). Besides being the chief cellular effector of hemostasis, platelets are rapidly deployed to sites of injury or infection and potentially modulate inflammatory processes by interacting with leukocytes and by secreting cytokines, chemokines and other inflammatory mediators.
Certain diseases, such as hemophilia, prevent the body from creating platelets and therefore even a minor injury can lead to the sufferer bleeding to death.