The generation of invasiveness in transformed cells represents an essential step of tumor progression. We have previously shown that MDCK epithelial cells, which are deprived of intracellular adhesion by the addition of anti-Arc-1/uvomorulin antibodies, become invasive for collagen gels and embryonal heart tissue (Behrens, J., M. M. Mareel, F. M. Van Roy, and W. Birchmeier. 1989. J. Cell Biol. 108: 2435-2447.). Here we examined whether invasiveness is also induced by scatter factor, which is known to dissociate epithelial cells (Stoker, M., E. Gherardi, M. Perryman, and J. Gray. 1987. Nature (Lond.). 327:239-242.). Scatter factor was purified to homogeneity from conditioned medium of human fibroblasts by heparin-Sepharose chromatography, followed by cation exchange chromatography, gel filtration, or preparative SDS gel electrophoresis. We found that scatter factor represents a 92,000 mol wt glycoprotein which, apparently, is converted by limited proteolysis into disulfide-linked 62,000 and 34/32,000 mol wt subunits. Reversed phase HPLC and sequence analysis of tryptic peptides confirmed the suggested molecular structure, and revealed further that scatter factor exhibits sequence similarities to hepatocyte growth factor and to plasminogen. Purified scatter factor in fact induces the invasiveness into collagen matrices of MDCK epithelial cells, and induces or promotes the invasiveness of a number of human carcinoma cell lines. Apparently, the effect on the human cells depends on their respective degree of differentiation, i.e., cell lines with a less pronounced epithelial phenotype were more susceptible to the factor. Scatter factor does not seem to influence synthesis, steady-state level, and phosphorylation of the cell adhesion molecule Arc-1/uvomorulin. Thus, scatter factor represents a clearly defined molecular species which induces, in vitro, the progression of epithelial cells to a more motile, i.e., invasive phenotype.

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