Perioperative exposure to lipopolysaccharide (LPS) is associated with accelerated metastatic colorectal tumour growth. LPS directly affects cells through Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR-4) and the transcription factor NF-kappa B. The urokinase plasminogen activator (u-PA) system is intimately implicated in tumour cell extracellular matrix (ECM) interactions fundamental to tumour progression. Thus we sought to determine if LPS directly induces accelerated tumour cell ECM adhesion and invasion through activation of the u-PA system and to elucidate the cellular pathways involved. Human colorectal tumour cell lines were stimulated with LPS. u-PA concentration, u-PA activity, active u-PA, surface urokinase plasminogen activator receptor (u-PAR) and TLR-4 expression were assessed by ELISA, colorimetric assay, western blot analysis and flow cytometry respectively. In vitro tumour cell vitronectin adhesion and ECM invasion were analysed by vitronectin adhesion assay and ECM invasion chambers. u-PA and u-PAR function was inhibited with anti u-PA antibodies or the selective u-PA inhibitors amiloride or WXC-340, TLR-4 by TLR-4-blocking antibodies and NF-kappa B by the selective NF-kappa B inhibitor SN-50. LPS upregulates u-PA and u-PAR in a dose-dependent manner, enhancing in vitro tumour cell vitronectin adhesion and ECM invasion by >40% (P<0.01). These effects were ameliorated by u-PA and u-PAR inhibition. LPS activates NF-kappa B through TLR-4. TLR-4 and NF-kappa B inhibition ameliorated LPS-enhanced u-PA and u-PAR expression, tumour cell vitronectin adhesion and ECM invasion. LPS promotes tumour cell ECM adhesion and invasion through activation of the u-PA system in a TLR-4- and NF-kappa B-dependent manner. British Journal of Cancer (2009) 100, 1589-1602. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6604942 www.bjcancer.com (C) 2009 Cancer Research UK.