We have studied the distribution of the plasminogen activator inhibitor type 1 (PAI-1) in cultures of confluent human umbilical vein endothelial cells. Plasminogen activator inhibitor activity measured by the 125I-fibrin plate assay was detected in the cytosol (2.85 +/- 0.16 U), 100,000 g particulate fraction (1.26 +/- 0.30 U), and in the growth substratum (9.82 +/- 1.80 U). Characterization of the protein responsible for this activity by reverse fibrin autography, immunoprecipitation, and immunoblotting demonstrated that it had an Mr of 46,000 and was antigenically related to PAI-1. Only the active form of the inhibitor was found in all three fractions. Inhibitor in the cytosol and particulate fraction converted to the latent form during 37 degrees C incubation while the substratum inhibitor remained fully active. Extracellular PAI-1 was detected in the growth substratum before its appearance in conditioned medium and represented the major protein deposited beneath the cells. The inhibitor was only transiently localized in the substratum, disappearing within 6 h and concomitantly appearing in the culture medium. Incubation of isolated metabolically labeled substratum with tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) resulted in the appearance and release of an immunologically related inactive 44,000 Mr form as well as the tPA-PAI-1 complex (110,000 Mr). PAI-1 was also converted into its 44,000-Mr form and released by treatment of the substratum with human leukocyte elastase. The rapid deposition and predominance of PAI-1 in the underlying compartment of endothelial cells may explain how the basement membrane is protected from proteolytic degradation by plasmin-generating enzymes.

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