The role of urokinase-type plasminogen activator in aggressive tumor cell behavior

Cancer Metastasis Rev. 1990 Dec;9(4):353-67. doi: 10.1007/BF00049524.


The correlation between urokinase-type plasminogen activator (uPA) expression and tumor cell invasion and metastasis has been well documented. Urokinase converts the zymogen plasminogen to plasmin, a trypsin-like enzyme with broad substrate specificities. Net uPA activity is determined not only by the amount of the enzyme itself, but also by its state of activation and the amount of specific plasminogen activator inhibitors (PAIs) present. Both uPA and its substrate, plasminogen, can bind to cells via specific membrane-associated receptors. Expression of uPA, uPA receptor (uPAR), and PAIs is regulated by growth factors, oncogenes, and other effector molecules. In the present review we discuss the interactions of uPA with its receptor, inhibitors, and substrate and how these interactions influence malignant behavior. We also review recent reports in which investigators have used anti-catalytic antibodies and/or gene transfection to demonstrate that uPA is directly involved in tumor cell invasion and metastasis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / pathology
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / physiopathology*
  • Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Plasminogen Activators / physiology*
  • Urokinase-Type Plasminogen Activator / physiology*


  • Plasminogen Activators
  • Urokinase-Type Plasminogen Activator