Human hepatocyte growth factor is a newly discovered substance that stimulates DNA synthesis in vitro. In this study, we examined intracellular Ca2+ movement as one of the second messengers for human hepatocyte growth factor in primary-cultured hepatocytes. The addition of hHGF induced Ca2+ oscillation, but the frequency of oscillations varied from cell to cell. We also saw marked intercellular heterogeneity in the initial latent period for the Ca2+ response; the mean latent period was rather longer than those seen with phenylephrine and vasopressin. This difference in the initial latent period may be due to the difference in the pathways of Ca2+ elevation.

Duration of culture determined the number of human hepatocyte growth factor—responsive cells; their number peaked at 2 to 5 hours of confluent culture, whereas the peak was earlier in a low-density culture. These changes in responsiveness during culture can be explained by the cell cycle—dependent sensitivity to human hepatocyte growth factor of hepatocytes. The Ca2+ response to human hepatocyte growth factor was dose dependent; 10−10 mol/L hHGF gave the highest Ca2+ response, similar to the dose-response curve of DNA synthesis. We even observed the Ca2+ response in the Ca2+-free buffer, so the increase in Ca2+ was considered due to release from intracellular Ca2+ stores.

These results suggest that human hepatocyte growth factor causes the intracellular Ca2+ elevation in the early stage of the cell cycle and that it plays important roles in the signal transduction systems for human hepatocyte growth factor and the proliferation of hepatocytes. (HEPATOLOGY 1992;15:1173–1178).