Receptor-bound urokinase-type plasminogen activator (uPA) remains associated to the surface of human monocytes for many hours. Monocytes induced to migrate in a chemotactic gradient of f-Met-Leu-Phe rapidly polarize their uPA receptors to the leading front of the cells. Receptor-bound enzyme can be inhibited by plasminogen activator inhibitor 2 (PAI-2), with a kinetics comparable to that determined for the free enzyme, and uPA/PAI-2 complexes can bind to the uPA receptor. In contrast to the active enzyme, the uPA/PAI-2 complex is rapidly cleared from the monocyte cell surface; this involves an initial cleavage of the complex at the cell surface, followed by endocytosis and degradation. These results indicate that the uPA receptor can function both to focus plasmin-mediated extracellular matrix degradation in front of migrating cells, and to target uPA/PAI-2 enzyme/inhibitor complexes for degradation; they suggest that this receptor is a key determinant in the control of uPA-catalyzed extracellular proteolysis.