Expression and action of hepatocyte growth factor in human and bovine normal ovarian surface epithelium and ovarian cancer

Biol Reprod. 2000 Mar;62(3):491-500. doi: 10.1095/biolreprod62.3.491.


More than 95% of ovarian cancers originate from the epithelial cells on the surface of the ovary, which are termed ovarian surface epithelium (OSE). These OSE cells are modified peritoneal mesothelial cells separated from underlying ovarian surface stromal tissue by a basal lamina of dense collagenous connective tissue. Mesenchymal-epithelial cell interactions between stromal cells and OSE cells are postulated to be important for normal OSE biology and for the onset of ovarian cancer. Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) is a mesenchymal-derived growth factor that mediates mesenchymal-epithelial cell interactions in a number of different tissues. The current study was an investigation of the expression and actions of HGF in normal OSE and ovarian cancer. Human epithelial cells from borderline and stage III ovarian cancer cases were found to express HGF protein in the epithelial cell component by immunocytochemistry analysis. The stromal cell component of human ovarian tumors contained little or no HGF immunostaining. Normal bovine ovaries have a similar physiology and endocrinology to human ovaries and are used as a model system to investigate normal OSE functions. HGF protein was detected in the OSE from both normal human and bovine ovaries. Adjacent ovarian stromal tissue contained light but positive HGF immunostaining. RNA was collected from normal bovine ovarian stromal cells to examine HGF gene expression. HGF transcripts were detected in cultured OSE and stromal cells by Northern blot analysis. Using a quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction procedure, HGF gene expression was found to be high in freshly isolated OSE but low in freshly isolated stroma. Levels of HGF gene expression after culture of stroma increased. Observations indicate that normal OSE express high levels of HGF in vivo and in vitro. Expression of HGF by normal epithelial cells versus stromal cells was unexpected and suggests that HGF may be important in an autocrine regulation of OSE. HGF actions on normal OSE cells and ovarian cancer cells were investigated. HGF was found to stimulate the growth of normal OSE cells in a manner similar to such growth stimulated by epidermal growth factor. Two ovarian cancer cell lines, SKOV3 and OCC1, were also stimulated to grow in response to HGF. This observation suggests that HGF may be involved in sustaining growth of ovarian tumors. These results are the first to demonstrate the production and action of HGF in normal OSE cells and ovarian cancer cells. This appears to be an example of HGF production by an epithelial cell, such that a mesenchymal-epithelial mixed phenotype is present. The autocrine stimulation of OSE growth by the local production and action of HGF provides insight into how the OSE may develop abnormal growth characteristics involved in the onset and progression of ovarian cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Hepatocyte Growth Factor / genetics
  • Hepatocyte Growth Factor / metabolism*
  • Hepatocyte Growth Factor / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Ovary / cytology
  • Ovary / drug effects
  • Ovary / physiology*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Stromal Cells / metabolism


  • Hepatocyte Growth Factor