The secretion of tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA), urokinase (u-PA) and their inhibitors by the human leukemia cell line K562 was examined. K562 cells normally secrete both t-PA and u-PA in a ratio of 3:1. After addition of 10 or 1 ng/mL phorbol myristate acetate (PMA) to K562 cells, a marked decrease in enzymatic activity is observed in the medium. However, when t-PA antigen rather than activity is measured, an increased amount is found in the medium under these conditions. PMA also induces secretion of the two inhibitors of plasminogen activator: plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 (PAI-1) and plasminogen activator inhibitor 2 (PAI-2). This accounts for the decrease in total enzymatic activity under conditions when production of t-PA antigen is increased. A study of the time course of induction revealed that the synthesis of plasminogen activator occurred before that of its inhibitors. Low concentrations of PMA (0.1 ng/mL) induce t-PA antigen primarily and not the inhibitors. This results in an increase in total enzymatic activity, with 94% of the secreted activity being t-PA. Thus, the secretion of plasminogen activators and their inhibitors can be manipulated in certain leukemic cells by inducers such as PMA.