Previous studies have demonstrated that hepatocyte growth factor/scatter factor (HGF/SF) is secreted by mesenchymal cells and that it elicits motility, morphogenesis and proliferation of epithelia expressing the met receptor. We now report that HGF/SF may act as an autocrine factor in fibromuscular renal mesangial cells. These cells mechanically support glomerular endothelia, control the rate of plasma ultrafiltration and are implicated in the pathogenesis of a variety of chronic renal diseases. We detected met protein in the vascular stalk of metanephric glomeruli and in the mature mesangium. Mesangial lines from a mouse transgenic for a temperature-sensitive simian virus 40 T antigen expressed met mRNA and protein, and recombinant HGF/SF phosphorylated the met receptor tyrosine kinase. Cells were immortal in the permissive condition and HGF/SF enhanced proliferation in a defined medium. In the absence of the immortalising protein, division ceased and recombinant HGF/SF caused multipolar cells to become bipolar. The factor diminished stress fibres, their focal contacts and immunostaining for extracellular fibronectin, hence suggesting reduced substratum adhesion and enhanced motility. Mesangial lines also expressed HGF/SF mRNA and secreted bioactive factor; immunocytochemistry showed both ligand and receptor in individual cells. HGF/SF blocking antibody aggregated the cells, suggesting that mesangial-derived factor affects basal cell conformation in an autocrine manner. We conclude that mesangial cells express both HGF/SF and met, and the factor induces morphogenesis of cultured mesangial cells. Therefore HGF/SF may have an autocrine role in mesangial biology but further studies are now required to investigate the potential importance of the factor in vivo.

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