Eosinophils migrate from the vascular circulation to the inflamed airways during asthma exacerbations. While the mechanism(s) of this process is not known, the expression of urokinase-type plasminogen activator receptor (uPAR) has been found to modulate neutrophil adhesion and migration to inflammatory sites. We hypothesized that increased expression of uPAR and its ligand, uPA, enhance eosinophil adhesion in patients with asthma. Patients with allergic asthma underwent segmental bronchoprovocation with allergen; 48 h later, peripheral blood and airway (from bronchoalveolar lavage fluid) eosinophils were isolated. uPA and uPAR protein expression were measured by flow cytometry and Western blot; mRNA was quantified by real-time PCR. Eosinophil adhesion to intercellular adhesion molecule (ICAM)-1 and vascular cell adhesion molecule (VCAM)-1 was assessed by eosinophil peroxidase activity. Airway eosinophils expressed significantly more uPA and uPAR protein and uPAR mRNA than peripheral blood eosinophils. Removal of cell-bound uPA and/or addition of exogenous uPA had no effect on blood eosinophil adhesion to ICAM-1 or VCAM-1. In contrast, exogenous uPA stimulated ICAM and VCAM adhesion of airway eosinophils. N-formyl-methionyl-leucyl-phenylalanine-activated airway eosinophil adherence to VCAM-1 and ICAM-1 (VCAM-1, 52.8 +/- 4.7%; ICAM-1, 49.2 +/- 5.3%) was increased over blood eosinophil adhesion (VCAM-1, 38.4 +/- 3.6%; ICAM-1, 27.7 +/- 4.9%; P < 0.05). Removal of cell-bound uPA from airway eosinophils decreased adhesion to blood cell levels; reintroduction of exogenous uPA completely restored adhesion levels. These data suggest that constitutive uPA primes, and exogenous uPA can activate, airway eosinophil adhesion following segmental allergen challenge and that increased uPA expression may be a mechanism of increased eosinophil infiltration and function in asthma.