The Urokinase Plasminogen Activation System in Pancreatic Cancer: Prospective Diagnostic and Therapeutic Targets

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Pancreatic cancer is a highly aggressive malignancy that features high recurrence rates and the poorest prognosis of all solid cancers. The urokinase plasminogen activation system (uPAS) is strongly implicated in the pathophysiology and clinical outcomes of patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), which accounts for more than 90% of all pancreatic cancers. Overexpression of the urokinase-type plasminogen activator (uPA) or its cell surface receptor uPAR is a key step in the acquisition of a metastatic phenotype via multiple mechanisms, including the increased activation of cell surface localised plasminogen which generates the serine protease plasmin. This triggers multiple downstream processes that promote tumour cell migration and invasion. Increasing clinical evidence shows that the overexpression of uPA, uPAR, or of both is strongly associated with worse clinicopathological features and poor prognosis in PDAC patients. This review provides an overview of the current understanding of the uPAS in the pathogenesis and progression of pancreatic cancer, with a focus on PDAC, and summarises the substantial body of evidence that supports the role of uPAS components, including plasminogen receptors, in this disease. The review further outlines the clinical utility of uPAS components as prospective diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers for PDAC, as well as a rationale for the development of novel uPAS-targeted therapeutics.

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