In addition to autoregulating its own expression, transforming growth factor-beta 1 (TGF-beta1) also regulates the production of proteases, protease inhibitors and extracellular matrix proteins. To investigate the relationship between plasminogen activator (PA), plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1) and the extracellular matrix in malignant and normal lung epithelial cells and to determine whether malignant lung epithelial cells may be more invasive than normal lung epithelial cells because of differences in expression of these proteins in response to TGF-beta, the regulation of PA, PAI-1, fibronectin, laminin and thrombospondin by TGF-beta1 in human non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cells was examined and compared with normal human bronchial epithelial (NHBE) cells. TGF-beta1 caused a persistent increase in expression of the mRNAs for both PA and PAI-1 in NSCLC cells, with the increase in PAI-1 mRNA beginning several hours before that of PA mRNA. By immunoprecipitation analysis, it was shown that TGF-beta1 also induced a corresponding increase in the amount of PAI-1 protein in these NSCLC cells as well. In contrast, while TGF-beta1 also increased expression of PAI-1 mRNA in NHBE cells, expression of PA mRNA decreased simultaneously. Treatment of NSCLC cells with TGF-beta1 resulted in a persistent increase in expression of the mRNAs for fibronectin, laminin and thrombospondin; expression of fibronectin protein also increased after treatment with TGF-beta1 in these cells. When NHBE cells were similarly cultured in the presence of TGF-beta1, expression of fibronectin mRNA also increased in a persistent manner; however, only an early transient increase in the level of the mRNAs for laminin and thrombospondin was detected in these cells. These data show that there is differential regulation of the genes for PA and PAI-1 and the extracellular matrix protein fibronectin in response to TGF-beta1 not only when NSCLC and NHBE cells are compared, but also when different NSCLC cells are compared with each other.