Plasminogen binding to cell surfaces may be important for tumor invasion and other processes that involve cellular migration. In this investigation, the principal plasminogen-binding protein was identified in the plasma membrane fraction of rat hepatocytes. The protein had an apparent mass of 59 kDa, was insoluble in a spectrum of detergents, and was identical to cytokeratin 8 (CK 8) as determined by sequence analysis of nine amino acids at the N terminus of two cyanogen bromide fragments. The 59 kDa protein bound CK 8-specific antibody in western blot analyses. These studies demonstrate that CK 8 or a CK 8-like protein binds plasminogen. Given this newly determined and potentially important CK 8 function, immunofluorescence and immunoelectron microscopy studies were performed to determine whether CK 8 may be present on the external surfaces of unpermeabilized, viable hepatocytes. All of the cells in each preparation were immunopositive with two separate CK 8-specific antibodies. A punctate pattern of immunofluorescence was detected on the cell surface with approximately even intensity from cell to cell. By immunoelectron microscopy, CK 8 was preferentially associated with microvilli. In order to determine whether other epithelial cells express cell-surface CK 8, immunofluorescence and immunoelectron microscopy studies were performed with HepG2 hepatocellular carcinoma cells and with BT20 and MCF-7 breast carcinoma cells. The pattern of antigen expression was equivalent with each cell type and comparable to that observed with hepatocytes. These studies support the hypothesis that CK 8 is associated with the external cell surface where it may express important proteinase receptor function.

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