Malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors (MPNSTs) are invasive peripheral nerve neoplasms that express both the receptor tyrosine kinase c-Met and its ligand hepatocyte growth factor (HGF). The combined expression of these proteins has been implicated in tumor cell growth and metastasis. However, HGF/c-Met autocrine activity requires the presence of a serine protease, the HGF activator (HGFA), and, in some cells, the CD44 transmembrane glycoprotein. Here, we found that HGFA, HGF, c-Met, and CD44 are coexpressed in MPNSTs but their localization did not correlate with increased cell proliferation. The ST8814 MPNST cell line also expresses all of these proteins, can convert pro-HGF to active HGF, and exhibits constitutive c-Met phosphorylation. Blocking c-Met activity or expression inhibits the invasive behavior of these cells but not their proliferation. Interestingly, although a CD44 splice variant contributes to MPNST cell invasion and interacts with c-Met and HGF in ST8814 cells, it is not required for c-Met activation. These data indicate that an HGF/c-Met autocrine loop can promote MPNST invasion through a CD44-independent mechanism and suggest that c-Met, HGFA, and HGF are potential molecular targets to inhibit MPNST metastasis. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.