In recent years, classification of soft-tissue sarcomas (STS) has improved with cytogenetic analyses, but their clinical behavior is still not easily predictable. The aim of this study was to detect alterations in the urokinase-type plasminogen system, involved in tumor growth and invasion, by comparing mRNA levels of its components with those of paired normal tissues, and relating them with patient clinical course. Real-time PCR was performed on human STS cell lines and tissues from highly malignant STS, including leiomyosarcomas and malignant fibrous histiocytomas, to evaluate the expression of urokinase-type plasminogen activator (uPA), uPA receptor (uPAR) and plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1). Immunohistochemistry of gene products was also performed. Median mRNA values of all genes studied were higher in tumors than in paired normal tissues. In agreement with data on STS cell lines, significant up-regulation for uPA and PAI-1 genes compared to reference values was seen. Moreover, different levels of expression were related to histotype and metastatic phenotype. There was accordance between uPA mRNA and protein expression, while immunodetection of PAI-1 product was weak and scattered. Clearly, the controversial role of PAI-1 protein requires further biological analyses, but evident involvement of uPA/PAI-1 gene overexpression in STS malignancy may highlight a molecular defect useful in discriminating STS high-risk patients.