Changes in urokinase-plasminogen activator (u-PA) and u-PA receptor (u-PAR) expression at the protein and mRNA level in resting neutrophils and in neutrophils activated by phorbol myristate acetate (PMA) were examined. Low amounts of u-PA were found intracellularly or membrane-bound in resting neutrophils. However, incubation of resting neutrophils with purified exogenous u-PA (10 IU/ml) revealed extensive binding of u-PA to cell membranes. Excess amino-terminal fragment of the u-PA molecule, a proteolytically inactive fragment of u-PA (amino acids 1–135) blocked binding of exogenous u-PA to the cell membrane. These results, collectively, indicate that the binding of u-PA is specific and that resting neutrophils have unoccupied u-PA receptors on their cell membrane. Addition of PMA led to an increase (P<0.01) in total cell-associated, membrane-bound u-PA activity and u-PA mRNA expression by bovine neutrophils. In contrast, PMA increased u-PAR mRNA levels but this was accompanied by a decrease (2.5-fold; P<0.01) in free, unoccupied u-PA binding sites. No significant effects on total cell-associated or membrane-bound u-PA were found when neutrophils were treated with 4-phorbol 12,13 didecanoate, a phorbol ester that does not activate protein kinase C (PKC). Furthermore, addition of 1-(5-isoquinolinesylphonyl)-2-methylpiperazine dihydrochloride (H-7), a potent PKC inhibitor, blocked the effect of PMA on total cell-associated u-PA activity. Thus, PKC plays a role in the modulation of u-PA and u-PAR by PMA in bovine neutrophils.