The rat bladder carcinoma epithelial NBT-II cell line undergoes, in vitro, a morphological transition to a fibroblast-like state in the presence of different growth factors. We have selected, in vivo, a metastatic clone, designated M-NBT-II, which has a mesenchymal phenotype and secretes into the culture medium a factor able to dissociate epithelial clusters of NBT-II or MDCK cells. This factor was designated scatter factor-like (SFL) by analogy to the HGF/SF, which has the same dissociating effect in these two cell lines. Here, we show that SFL factor and HGF/SF are different factors: (i) no HGF/SF transcripts could be detected using either specific rat HGF/SF cDNA probes or PCR; (ii) blocking antibodies against rat HGF/SF do not inhibit the SFL activity; and (iii) crude culture medium or partially purified SFL factor-containing fractions do not induce MDCK tubulogenesis, a biological assay that is specific for HGF/SF activity in vitro. We report the partial purification of the SFL factor, based on ion exchange and reverse-phase chromatography. The results indicate that the M-NBT-II metastatic variant secretes a dissociating factor sharing some common biological properties with the HGF/SF, which suggests that the SFL factor is a member of the HGF/SF family and may be involved in tumor progression.

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