A reporter plasmid coding for the low-molecular-weight (low-M(r)) form of single-chain urokinase-type plasminogen activator (low-M(r) u-PA; Leu144-Leu411) has been constructed and used to analyze promoter activity. Vectors containing the low-M(r) u-PA cDNA coupled to hormone-responsive promoters were introduced to mammalian cells. Following hormone treatment, the activity of the secreted reporter protein was determined in aliquots of cell culture supernatants. The assay is based on plasminogen activation by low-M(r) u-PA and subsequent cleavage of the plasmin-specific tripeptide substrate, S-2251. The resulting chromophore, p-nitroanilide, was quantified colorimetrically at 405 nm. Transient and stable expression of the low-M(r) u-PA reporter gene in different eukaryotic cells demonstrates the suitability of the system for the quantification of the activity of eukaryotic promoter elements in a rapid and highly sensitive manner, while maintaining cell integrity.