Platelets are one of several cell types capable of mediating antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity. We have developed a plasma-free system in which washed mouse platelets lyse washed antibody and complement-sensitized SRBC targets in the presence of EDTA. The dose-response curve is concave to the abscissa, indicating that lysis is a one-hit reaction. Determination of the actual number of platelets required to lyse a target shows that each platelet could lyse a single target. A limited degree of lysis is observed when platelets are incubated with SRBC sensitized with monoclonal IgG2a alone, but no lysis occurs with SRBC bearing comparable amounts of other isotypes. In the presence of C1 through C3, but not C1 through C2, efficient lysis is triggered by complement-fixing monoclonal IgG2a, IgG2b, and IgG3. In contrast, IgM and non-complement-fixing IgG1 and IgE are inactive. To achieve efficient lysis, it appears that platelets require both target cell-bound antibody and C3 fragments in close proximity. It is unlikely that proteases, pore-forming proteins, or toxic oxygen metabolites are involved in platelet-mediated lysis. Freezing and thawing of platelets, sonication, or sonication followed by hypotonic shock causes severe depletion of cytoplasmic and granular contents, as shown by electron microscopy and marker assays. However, the membrane fraction of these preparations retains cytolytic activity. When platelets are treated with trypsin or heated, lytic activity is eliminated, indicating that at least one component of this system is protein. These findings, as well as the fact that platelets do not lyse unsensitized innocent bystander SRBC, suggest that the complete cytotoxic system of platelets capable of specific recognition and lysis resides in their membranes.