The urokinase receptor (uPAR) attenuates myofibroblast recruitment and fibrosis in the kidney. This study examined the role of uPAR and its co-receptor LDL receptor-related protein (LRP) in the regulation of kidney fibroblast proliferation and extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) signaling. Compared with uPAR+/+ cells, uPAR-/- kidney fibroblasts were hyperproliferative. UPAR-/- fibroblast proliferation was 60% inhibited by an ERK kinase inhibitor. LRP protein was reduced and extracellular accumulation of urokinase-type plasminogen activator (uPA) and plasminogen activator inhibitor type 1 (PAI-1) proteins were greater in uPAR-/- cultures. Addition of functional uPA protein or LRP antisense RNA significantly increased ERK signaling and cell mitosis in both genotypes. Enhanced uPAR-/- fibroblast proliferation was reversed by a recombinant nonfunctional uPA peptide. The density of cell-bound fluor-uPA was similar between uPAR-/- and uPAR+/+ fibroblasts (78 +/- 6 versus 92 +/- 16 units). These data suggest that uPAR-deficient kidney fibroblasts express lower levels of its scavenger co-receptor LRP, resulting in greater extracellular accumulation of uPA and PAI-1. Enhanced proliferation of uPAR-/- fibroblasts seems to be mediated by uPA-dependent ERK signaling via an alternative urokinase receptor.