Plasminogen activator (PA) inhibitor-1 (PAI-1) has been recognized as a surrogate marker of endothelial dysfunction in diseases associated with impaired angiogenesis, including atherosclerosis, diabetic vasculopathy, and nephropathy. To establish the necessary and sufficient components of the PA system [PAI-1, urokinase-type PA (uPA), or tissue-type PA (tPA), and plasminogen (Plg)] for angiogenesis, we examined angiogenic competence of vascular explant cultures obtained from mice deficient in PAI-1, tPA, uPA, and Plg. To gain insight into the requirement for different matrix-degrading systems during endothelial cell migration across plasmin-degradable basement membranes compared with profibrotic areas containing plasmin-nondegradable collagen, we contrasted vascular sprouting in collagen with Matrigel lattices. PAI-1(-/-) vessels showed an increased capillary sprouting in both collagen and Matrigel. Deficiency of uPA significantly reduced the rate of sprouting, whereas tPA(-/-) vessels showed a profound inhibition of capillary sprouting. The Plg(-/-) vessels failed to sprout, a defect that was restored not only by exogenous Plg, but also by the addition of PAs; a nonproteolytic effect of tPA was observed in Matrigel. Zymography revealed no differences in the activity of metalloproteinase (MMP)-2 and -9 in wild-type and PAI-1(-/-) vessels, but demonstrated reduced MMP-9 activity in all angiogenesis-deficient vessels. In summary, 1) PAI-1 by itself is a modest inhibitor of endothelial sprouting, 2) tPA and Plg are indispensable for angiogenesis in this model, 3) Plg is not the only substrate for PAs, and 4) the activity of MMP-9 is undetectable in explant cultures from tPA and Plg knockout mice.