Cultured normal low-passage embryo fibroblasts, from a number of species, and two untransformed clones of a Balb/3T3 line elaborate increasing amounts of plasminogen activator (PA) as they approach confluence; the low-passage cells then lose this PA activity after reaching confluence, while the 3T3 cells retain it indefinitely. Even at their peaks, however, the PA activities of the low-passage cells remain well below those of the corresponding virally or spontaneously transformed cells. The PA increases in normal cells are probably a result of PA production rather than of adsorption of secreted PA to the cell surface, or of changes in cell-associated protease inhibitors. The elaboration of PA by normal cells is dependent upon their metabolic activity, such that the level of serum supplementation and the growth phase of the culture directly influence the level of cell-associated PA observed. In addition, there may be a component of serum which exerts a negative control on PA production and which is not an acid-labile protease inhibitor.

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