We have shown the presence of surface receptors for the amino-terminal fragment (ATF) of human urokinase-type plasminogen activator (u-PA) on an in vitro-established cell line of human epidermal origin by both radio-binding assays with human 125I-u-PA-ATF and transmission electron microscopy of a gold-u-PA complex. On the basis of cross-linking experiments with 125I-u-PA-ATF and subsequent autoradiography of the gels we have observed that such receptors are not spontaneously released into the culture medium. The treatment with phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipase C induces the release of the receptor, which behaves as a glycosyl phosphatidyl inositol(GPI)-anchored protein. Phase-partitioning experiments on cell lysates have shown that the receptor partitions into the detergent phase. By detaching cell monolayers with the chelating agent EDTA we have prepared the cell-substratum contact sites of these cells, which represent only the 3.5% of the surface membrane of monolayered cells. Such plasma membrane remnants are highly selected since they contain about 43% of total u-PA-ATF binding sites. Such binding sites show the same biochemical and morphological characteristics of u-PA-ATF receptors observed in the monolayered cells, thus indicating that u-PA is selectively concentrated at the level of cell-substratum contacts. This is likely to enable directional proteolysis for cell migration and invasion.