It is not known if urokinase-type plasminogen activator (uPA) is associated with normal colonic epithelial cells. The aims of this study were to determine if normal colonic epithelial cells have uPA activity and whether this is concentrated at the cell membrane. In addition, the contribution of colonic epithelial cell associated uPA activity to disease related pertubations of mucosal uPA activity were examined. A highly enriched population of colonic epithelial cells was isolated from resected colon or biopsy specimens by an enzymatic technique. uPA activity was measured in cell homogenates by a specific and sensitive colorimetric method and expressed relative to cellular DNA. In two experiments subcellular fractionation of colonic epithelial cells was performed by nitrogen cavitation followed by ultracentrifugation over a linear sucrose gradient. The fractions collected were analysed for uPA and organelle-specific enzyme activities. Normal colonic epithelial cells have cell associated uPA activity (mean (SEM) 5.6 (1.1) IU/mg, n = 18). This colocalised with fractions enriched for leucine-beta-naphthylamidase and 5'-nucleotidase, markers of plasma membrane. uPA activities in epithelial cells from cancerous colons (9.8 (3.1) n = 7) or from mucosa affected by inflammatory bowel disease (3.8 (0.7) n = 15) were not significantly different from normal (paired t test), while that in epithelial cells from greatly inflamed mucosa was similar to that from autologous normal or mildly inflamed areas (4.4 (1.2) v 5.9 (3.6), n = 9). Thus normal colonic epithelial cells have cell associated uPA activity which is concentrated on the plasma membranes, suggesting the presence of uPA receptors. Increased mucosal levels of uPA previously reported in patients with inflammatory bowel disease are not due to increased colonic epithelial cell associated uPA.
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