Urokinase plasminogen activator (uPA) is a serine proteinase involved in degradation of the extracellular matrix during cancer invasion. uPA is up-regulated in breast cancer, and high levels of uPA in tumor extracts are strongly associated with poor prognosis. Like several other matrix proteinases, uPA is in some types of cancer, including breast cancer, expressed by stromal cells. The present study was undertaken to determine the identity of the uPA-expressing stromal cells in breast cancer tissue. By in situ hybridization, a positive signal for uPA mRNA was in 26 of 28 ductal and four of five lobular carcinomas demonstrated in stromal cells adjacent to nests of cancer cells, whereas only one ductal carcinoma showed a positive reaction in the epithelial component itself. The positive stromal cells were found in both the peripheral and central parts of the tumors. Stromal cells surrounding carcinoma in situ lesions were uPA mRNA positive in a few cases, and no signal was observed in the neighboring nonmalignant tissue. Cell identification was done by immunostaining with Ab to markers for the following cell types: myoepithelial cells, myofibroblasts, smooth muscle cells, macrophages, endothelial cells, and epithelial cells. The only one of these cell types that had a distribution similar to the uPA mRNA-expressing cells was myofibroblasts, recognized as extravascular alpha-smooth muscle actin-positive and cytokeratin-negative cells. On adjacent sections, colocalization was found of cells positive for uPA mRNA and cells positive for alpha-smooth muscle actin and negative for cytokeratin. We concluded that the uPA mRNA-expressing cells are myofibroblasts. The myofibroblasts have previously been found to be abundant in breast cancer tissue. They primarily originate by differentiation of fibroblasts, probably induced by cytokines released from the cancer cells. The present findings suggest that the myofibroblasts, through production of uPA, play an active role in breast cancer invasion.