An important step in the transition from adenomatous polyp to invasive carcinoma is the degradation of the epithelial basement membrane. By the generation of plasmin, plasminogen activators may play an important role in regulating the extracellular protease activity required for this event to occur. The production of biofunctional urokinase and of tissue plasminogen activator was therefore investigated in the dimethylhydrazine induced rat model of colorectal neoplasia. Both adenomatous polyps (p values less than 0.001) and colorectal carcinomas (p values less than 0.001) were demonstrated to produce a significant excess of both urokinase and tissue plasminogen activator when compared with macroscopically normal colon. There was, however, no increased production of either enzyme by macroscopically normal preneoplastic colon when compared with control colon. This enhanced capacity of colorectal tumours to produce plasminogen activators and generate plasmin is thus a feature of both the premalignant as well as the malignant phenotype. These enzymes may contribute to the malignant potential of adenomatous polyps and to the invasive capacity of established carcinomas.
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