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The discovery of hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) and its significance for cell biology, life sciences and clinical medicine.

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Kringle Pharma Joint Research Division for Regenerative Drug Discovery, Center for Advanced Science and Innovation, Osaka University, Osaka, Japan.


It has been more than 25 years since HGF was discovered as a mitogen of hepatocytes. HGF is produced by stromal cells, and stimulates epithelial cell proliferation, motility, morphogenesis and angiogenesis in various organs via tyrosine phosphorylation of its receptor, c-Met. In fetal stages, HGF-neutralization, or c-Met gene destruction, leads to hypoplasia of many organs, indicating that HGF signals are essential for organ development. Endogenous HGF is required for self-repair of injured livers, kidneys, lungs and so on. In addition, HGF exerts protective effects on epithelial and non-epithelial organs (including the heart and brain) via anti-apoptotic and anti-inflammatory signals. During organ diseases, plasma HGF levels significantly increased, while anti-HGF antibody infusion accelerated tissue destruction in rodents. Thus, endogenous HGF is required for minimization of diseases, while insufficient production of HGF leads to organ failure. This is the reason why HGF supplementation produces therapeutic outcomes under pathological conditions. Moreover, emerging studies delineated key roles of HGF during tumor metastasis, while HGF-antagonism leads to anti-tumor outcomes. Taken together, HGF-based molecules, including HGF-variants, HGF-fragments and c-Met-binders are available as regenerative or anti-tumor drugs. Molecular analysis of the HGF-c-Met system could provide bridges between basic biology and clinical medicine.

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