The role and regulation of urokinase-type plasminogen activator receptor gene expression in cancer invasion and metastasis

Med Res Rev. 2001 Mar;21(2):146-70. doi: 10.1002/1098-1128(200103)21:2<146::aid-med1004>;2-b.


This article reviews the role of urokinase-type plasminogen activator receptor (uPAR) and its protein, mRNA, cDNA, genomic organization, promoter, transcription activation factors, and signal transduction. The uPAR has been implicated in several biological processes including angiogenesis, monocyte migration, cancer metastasis, trophoblast implantation, and wound healing. It is a specific cell surface receptor for its ligand uPA which catalyzes the formation of plasmin from plasminogen to generate the proteolytic cascade that contributes to the breakdown of extracellular matrix, a key step in cancer metastasis. The uPAR is a 55-60 kDa glycoprotein organized as three homologous cysteine-rich domains. It attaches to the plasma membrane via a covalent linkage to a glycosyl-phosphatidylinositol (GPI) moiety and appears to play an important role in transmembrane signalling. The 1.4-kb human uPAR cDNA and 21.23-kb genomic DNA have been cloned and the gene contains seven exons. The uPAR promoter region was defined in a 188 bp fragment between bases -141 and +47 relative to the transcription start site. Binding of transcription factors (Sp1, AP-2, NFkappaB and two AP-1) to the uPAR promoter region activates the basal transcription of the gene. There is a strong correlation between uPAR expression and the invasive cancer cell phenotype. uPAR may play a critical role in the process of cancer invasion and metastasis, as antisense uPAR mRNA can inhibit cancer spread in vitro and in vivo. These studies may provide a novel therapeutic target for blocking cancer invasion and metastasis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasm Metastasis*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Plasminogen Activators / genetics
  • Plasminogen Activators / metabolism*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / genetics
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Urokinase Plasminogen Activator
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • PLAUR protein, human
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Receptors, Urokinase Plasminogen Activator
  • Plasminogen Activators