uPA plays an important role in angiogenesis: Originally, the urokinase system has been implicated to assist the angiogenic process by it’s proteolytic properties. It is now becoming increasingly evident that uPA additionally elicits many pro-angiogenic responses like differentiation, proliferation and cell migration in a non-proteolytic fashion via induction of intracellular signal transduction. In this study we demonstrate that in endothelial cells uPA protects against apoptosis by transcriptional upregulation of inhibitor of apoptosis proteins (IAPs), among them most prominently the X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis protein (XIAP). In contrast to canonical growth factors, like vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), uPA elicits anti-apoptosis independently of the PI3-kinase pathway. uPA-induced cell survival is dependent on the type of extracellular matrix used indicating the involvement of integrin adhesion receptors. Thereby, uPA induces phosphorylation of the CDC42 downstream effector p21-activated kinase 1 (PAK1), which leads to IkappaB kinase alpha (IKKa) phosphorylation, a prerequisite for NFkappaB activation. Blocking NFkappaB by using the specific NFkappaB inhibitor BAY 11–7082 or by adenoviral-mediated overexpression of its inhibitor, IkB, inhibits uPA-induced XIAP expression as well as uPA-induced cell survival. Downregulating XIAP expression by small interfering RNA techniques significantly reduces cell survival efficiencies of uPA in endothelial cells. From these data we conclude that uPA activation, which is a main player in endothelial cell migration and invasion, provides an additional, PI3-kinase independent cell survival mechanism.

Author notes

Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.