Co-expression and regulation of Met and Ron proto-oncogenes in human hepatocellular carcinoma tissues and cell lines



Met and ron proto-oncogenes encode the cell surface receptors for hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) and hepatocyte growth factor-like (HLP) protein, respectively, and induce mitogenesis, motogenesis, morphogenesis, and metastatic activity in various cell types. Overexpression of met in human carcinoma has been reported by several groups including ours; however, the mechanisms that control met gene expression are thus far unclear. The present study focuses on the expression and regulation of the Met and Ron receptors in human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). We report here that abnormal expression of met and ron proteins occurs in some cases of human HCC. Using several HCC cell lines as a model system, we show that HGF, as well as other cytokines, such as epidermal growth factor (EGF), interleukin-1 (IL-1), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and tumor necrosis factor α (TNF-α), induce met and ron expression. Using several chimeric constructs consisting of various lengths of the met promoter region fused to the reporter gene of chloramphenicol acetyl transferase (CAT), and by performing transient transfection of these constructs into HepG2 cells, we show that induction of met gene expression by HGF and other cytokines is, at least in part, through up-regulation of met gene promoter activity. The DNA region conferring responsiveness to cytokine induction was located within 0.2 kb of the met core promoter. Interestingly, EGF did not stimulate met promoter activity in any of the met-CAT chimeric constructs. These results provide evidence that met and ron are modulated in the liver by a similar cytokine network. In the case of met expression, the 0.2-kb region in the met gene promoter may play an important role in mediating its gene induction in response to HGF and other cytokines. Our results also suggest that unregulated expression of met and ron may be associated with pathological conditions, such as HCC, in the liver.