Urokinase plasminogen activator receptor (uPAR) has been identified some 15 years ago and the anticipation was that its presence on the cell surface will provide a focus for anchoring uPA and possibly protect the enzyme from native inhibitors. The studies of the last decade have shown that uPA localized to the surface of cells by uPAR is indeed an important factor in the process of cancer cell invasion and metastasis. We developed a chick embryo model in which we showed that uPAR is crucial in invasion of stroma and in intravasation (breaching of the blood vessels walls). More recently and unexpectedly, uPAR--a protein anchored in the outer leaf-let of the plasma membrane, has been shown to initiate signal transduction events and affect cell migration. We have shown that uPAR co-associates with fibronectin binding integrin, alpha 5 beta 1, activates them and that this interaction leads to a greatly increased level of active ERK. When the association between uPAR and integrin or integrin and fibronectin are interrupted either by reduction of surface uPAR expression, or by other means, human carcinoma cells enter a state of protracted dormancy. We show that very high levels of active ERK are required to keep cancer cells proliferating in vivo.
L. Ossowski, J. Aguirre Ghiso, D. Liu