Urokinase plasminogen activator (uPA) is a serine protease involved in cancer invasion and metastasis. uPA acts in vivo by binding to a membrane receptor known as uPAR. In this study, uPA and uPAR levels were semiquantitated by immunocytochemistry in 36 primary breast carcinomas. Using monoclonal antibody HD-UK 1, uPA was detected both in stromal and in malignant cells. However, the predominant location was in the stromal cells. Using double-staining, cells containing uPA were also found to coexpress either cytokeratin (an epithelial cell marker) or more frequently KP1 (a macrophage/monocyte cell marker). With monoclonal antibody HD-uPAR 13.1, uPAR was localized principally to spindle- or macrophage-like stromal cells, especially when these cells surrounded invasive breast cancer. In contrast, uPAR was only rarely detected in cancer cells and was not detected in normal epithelia surrounding tumour or in areas of adenosis. uPA levels in both stromal and epithelial cells were significantly correlated with those for uPAR. We conclude that both uPA and its receptor are mostly present in stromal cells in invasive breast carcinomas. These results suggest that stromal cells collaborate with malignant cells to mediate metastasis.