During human prostate cancer progression, the integrin alpha6beta1 (laminin receptor) is expressed on the cancer cell surface during invasion and in lymph node metastases. We previously identified a novel structural variant of the alpha6 integrin called alpha6p. This variant was produced on the cell surface and was missing the beta-barrel extracellular domain. Using several different concentrations of amiloride, aminobenzamidine and PAI-1 and the urokinase-type plasminogen activator (uPA) function-blocking antibody (3689), we showed that uPA, acting as a protease, is responsible for production of alpha6p. We also showed that addition of uPA in the culture media of cells that do not produce alpha6p, resulted in a dose-dependent alpha6p production. In contrast, the addition of uPA did not result in the cleavage of other integrins. Using alpha2-antiplasmin and plasmin depleted media, we observed that uPA cleaves the alpha6 integrin directly. Further, 12-o-tetradecanoyl-phorbol-13-acetate (TPA) induced the production of alpha6p, and this induction was abolished by PAI-1 but not alpha2-antiplasmin. Finally, the alpha6p integrin variant was detected in invasive human prostate carcinoma tissue indicating that this is not a tissue culture phenomenon. These data, taken together, suggest that this is a novel function of uPA, that is, to remove the beta-barrel ligand-binding domain of the integrin while preserving its heterodimer association.