Low passage cultures of normal human keratinocytes produce several components of the plasminogen activator/plasmin proteolytic cascade, including urokinase plasminogen activator (uPA), tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), and two specific inhibitors. Studies here presented demonstrate that these cells also contain a high-affinity (Kd = 3 x 10(-10) M) plasma membrane-binding site for uPA. High molecular weight uPA, either as the single-chain precursor or two-chain activated form, bound to the receptor; however, low molecular weight (33 kD) uPA, tPA, or epidermal growth factor did not compete for binding, demonstrating specificity. Acid treatment, which removed endogenous uPA from the receptor, was required to detect maximal binding (45,000 sites per cell). To investigate the possibility that the uPA receptor on keratinocytes may be involved in epithelial migration during wound repair, cultures were wounded and allowed to migrate into the wounded site. Binding sites for uPA were localized by autoradiographic analysis of 125I-uPA binding as well as by immunocytochemical studies using anti-uPA IgG. With both techniques uPA binding sites were detected selectively on the plasma membrane of cells at the leading edge of the migrating epithelial sheet. This localization pattern suggests that uPA receptor expression on keratinocytes may be coupled to cell migration during cutaneous wounding.