The urokinase receptor, overexpressed in invasive colon cancer, promotes tumour cell invasion. Since K-Ras is activated in many colon cancers, we determined if urokinase receptor overexpression is a consequence of this activated oncogene. Accordingly, urokinase receptor expression was compared in HCT 116 colon cancer cells containing either a mutation-activated K-Ras or disrupted for this oncogene (by homologous recombination). HCT 116 cells containing the disrupted K-Ras oncogene expressed between 50 and 85% less urokinase receptor protein compared with the parental HCT 116 cells. Reduced urokinase receptor expression in cells containing the disrupted mutated K-Ras was not due to a physical impairment of the urokinase receptor gene since phorbol ester treatment was inductive for its expression. Constitutive urokinase receptor expression in HCT 116 cells required an intact AP-1 motif in the promoter (at -184) and electrophoretic mobility shifting assays indicated less c-Jun, JunD, c-Fos and Fra-1 bound to this motif in the K-Ras-disrupted cells. Since the urokinase receptor accelerates proteolysis, laminin degradation was compared in cells containing the mutation-activated and disrupted K-Ras oncogene. The latter cells displaying fewer urokinase receptors, degraded 80% less laminin. This is the first study to demonstrate a role for K-Ras as a regulator of the constitutive expression of the urokinase receptor.