Evolving role of uPA/uPAR system in human cancers

Cancer Treat Rev. 2008 Apr;34(2):122-36. doi: 10.1016/j.ctrv.2007.10.005. Epub 2007 Dec 26.


Recent advancements in cancer research have led to some major breakthroughs; however, the impact on overall cancer-related death rate remains unacceptable, suggesting that further insight into tumor markers and development of targeted therapies is urgently needed. The urokinase plasminogen activator (uPA) system represents a family of serine proteases that are involved in the degradation of basement membrane and the extracellular matrix, leading to tumor cell invasion and metastasis. In this review, we have provided an overview of emerging data, from basic research as well as clinical studies, highlighting the evolving role of uPA/uPAR system in tumor progression. It is currently believed that the expression and activation of uPA plays an important role in tumorigenicity, and high endogenous levels of uPA and uPAR are associated with advanced metastatic cancers. The endogenous inhibitors of this system, PAI-1 and PAI-2, regulate uPA-uPAR activity by either direct inhibition or affecting cell surface expression and internalization. PAI-1's role in cancers is rather unusual; on one hand, it inhibits uPA-uPAR leading to inhibition of invasion and metastasis and on the other it has been reported to facilitate tumor growth and angiogenesis. Individual components of uPA/uPAR system are reported to be differentially expressed in cancer tissues compared to normal tissues and, thus, have the potential to be developed as prognostic and/or therapeutic targets. Therefore, this system represents a highly attractive target that warrants further in-depth studies. Such studies are likely to contribute towards the development of molecularly-driven targeted therapies in the near future.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic
  • Plasminogen Inactivators / physiology
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / physiology*
  • Receptors, Urokinase Plasminogen Activator
  • Urokinase-Type Plasminogen Activator / physiology*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • PLAUR protein, human
  • Plasminogen Inactivators
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Receptors, Urokinase Plasminogen Activator
  • Urokinase-Type Plasminogen Activator