Plasminogen binding to cell surfaces results in enhanced plasminogen activation, localization of the proteolytic activity of plasmin on cell surfaces, and protection of plasmin from alpha 2-antiplasmin. We sought to characterize candidate plasminogen binding sites on nucleated cells, using the U937 monocytoid cell as a model, specifically focusing on the role of cell-surface proteins with appropriately placed lysine residues as candidate plasminogen receptors. Lysine derivatives with free alpha-carboxyl groups and peptides with carboxy-terminal lysyl residues were effective inhibitors of plasminogen binding to the cells. One of the peptides, representing the carboxy-terminal 19 amino acids of alpha 2-antiplasmin, was approximately 5-fold more effective than others with carboxy-terminal lysines. Thus, in addition to a carboxy-terminal lysyl residue, other structural features of the cell-surface proteins may influence their affinity for plasminogen. Affinity chromatography has been used to isolate candidate plasminogen receptors from U937 cells. A major protein of Mr 54,000 was recovered and identified as alpha-enolase by immunochemical and functional criteria. alpha-Enolase was present on the cell surface and was capable of binding plasminogen in ligand blotting analyses. Plasminogen binding activity of a molecular weight similar to alpha-enolase also was present in a variety of other cell types. Carboxypeptidase B treatment of alpha-enolase abolished its ability to bind plasminogen, consistent with the presence of a C-terminal lysyl residue. Thus, cell-surface proteins with carboxy-terminal lysyl residues appear to function as plasminogen binding sites, and alpha-enolase has been identified as a prominent representative of this class of receptors.