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J Biol Chem. 2009 Jun 19;284(25):17030-8. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M109.010066. Epub 2009 Apr 21.

The urokinase plasminogen activator receptor promotes efferocytosis of apoptotic cells.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, New Jersey Medical School, Newark, New Jersey 07103, USA.


The urokinase receptor (uPAR), expressed on the surface of many cell types, coordinates plasmin-mediated cell surface proteolysis for matrix remodeling and promotes cell adhesion by acting as a binding protein for vitronectin. There is great clinical interest in uPAR in the cancer field as numerous reports have demonstrated that up-regulation of the uPA system is correlated with malignancy of various carcinomas. Using both stable cell lines overexpressing uPAR and transient gene transfer, here we provide evidence for a non-reported role of uPAR in the phagocytosis of apoptotic cells, a process that has recently been termed efferocytosis. When uPAR was expressed in human embryonic kidney cells, hamster melanoma cells, or breast cancer cells (BCCs), there was a robust enhancement in the efferocytosis of apoptotic cells. uPAR-expressing cells failed to stimulate engulfment of viable cells, suggesting that uPAR enhances recognition of one or more determinant on the surface of the apoptotic cell. uPAR-mediated engulfment was not inhibited by expression of mutant beta5 integrin, nor was alphavbeta5 integrin-mediated engulfment modulated by cleavage of uPAR by phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipase C. Further, we found that the more aggressive BCCs had a higher phagocytic capacity that correlated with uPAR expression and cleavage of membrane-associated uPAR in MDA-MB231 BCCs significantly impaired phagocytic activity. Because efferocytosis is critical for the resolution of inflammation and production of anti-inflammatory cytokines, overexpression of uPAR in tumor cells may promote a tolerogenic microenvironment that favors tumor progression.

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