The c-met protooncogene is a growth factor receptor with tyrosine kinase activity. Recently the hepatocyte growth factor was identified as the ligand for this receptor. Because the hepatocyte growth factor is a most potent mitogen in hepatocytes, possible involvement of c-met expression in hepatocarcin genesis is suspected. In this study, we examined c-met expression in 23 hepatocellular carcinoma cases by means of Northern-blot analysis and an immunohistochemical study. Northern-blot analysis revealed c-met mRNA expression in the tumors of 6 of 19 patients (31.6%); in the immunohistochemical study, c-met protein was detected in 16 of 23 patients (69.6%). With both methods, c-met was found to be overexpressed in hepatocellular carcinoma compared with the surrounding normal liver. Comprehensive analysis showed that c-met protein expression was correlated with poor-to-moderate differentiation of cancer cells (p < 0.05). Tumor proliferative activity of hepatocellular carcinoma was evaluated by means of Ki-67 labeling index. All cases with increased tumor proliferative activity showed c-met protein expression, although the elevation of proliferative activity in the c-met–positive group was not statistically significant. These data suggest that the overexpression of c-met plays an important role in the development of hepatocellular carcinoma. (Hepatology 1994;20:1231–1236).
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