Expression and functional role of urokinase-type plasminogen activator receptor in normal and acute leukaemic cells


Dr Lanza Institute of Haematology, University, St Anna Hospital, Corso Giovecca No. 203, Ferrara 44100, Italy.


Urokinase-type plasminogen activator receptor (UPA-R-CD87) is a GPI-anchored membrane protein which promotes the generation of plasmin on the surface of many cell types, probably facilitating cellular extravasation and tissue invasion. A flow cytometric quantitative analysis of expression levels for UPA-R was performed on fresh blast cells from patients with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML, n = 74), acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL, n = 24), and biphenotypic leukaemia (BAL, n = 3) using two CD87 monoclonal antibodies (McAbs) (3B10 and VIM5). Peripheral blood and bone marrow (BM) cells from 15 healthy adults served as controls. Using 3B10 McAb, UPA-R was expressed (>99%) by blood monocytes, neutrophils, and BM myelomonocytic precursors in controls, whereas resting T and B lymphocytes, and CD34+ cells were UPA-R negative. We also attempted to clarify whether UPA-R has a role in mediating neutrophil functions. Oriented locomotion induced by different chemotaxins and lysozyme release by granules stimulated with fMLP or PMA were significantly decreased when UPA-R was neutralized by CD87 McAb. In contrast, the anti-UPA-R McAb had no effect on superoxide anion generation of normal neutrophils. Blasts from AML showed a heterogenous pattern of expression for the UPA-R McAbs, with reactivity strictly dependent on FAB subtype. The highest UPA-R expression was seen in the M5 group: all patients tested (n = 20) showed strong positivity for the UPA-R McAb whereas only 12% (3/24) of ALL patients were CD87 positive, and 2/3 of BAL patients showed a dim expression for CD87. The number of receptors expressed by blast cells in 6/74 (8.1%) AML patients was higher than those of normal samples; in addition, since co-expression of UPA-R and CD34 was not found in normal haemopoietic cells, it may be postulated that CD87 can be used alone (when overexpressed) or in combination with CD34 for the detection of minimal residual disease. Results also indicated that patients with UPA-receptors >12 × 103 ABC/cell, irrespective of FAB subtype, had a greater tendency for cutaneous and tissue infiltration and a higher frequency of chromosome abnormalities, thus suggesting the concept that cellular UPA-R content positively correlates with the invasive potential of AML cells. The combination of higher UPA-R positivity, abnormalities of chromosome 11, and M5 FAB morphology may identify a peculiar subset of AML, characterized by a more aggressive clinical course.