In this study, we examined whether the production of hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) in fibroblasts is regulated by protein phosphatase(s). Inhibitors of the enzymes okadaic acid and calyculin A were used for this purpose. Both inhibitors markedly stimulated HGF production in human skin fibroblasts in a dose-dependent manner. The effects of okadaic acid and calyculin A were maximal at 25-37.5 and 1.25 nM, respectively. Highly active HGF production in MRC-5 human embryonic lung fibroblasts was also promoted by both inhibitors. The effect of okadaic acid was accompanied by an up-regulation of HGF gene expression. The stimulating effect of okadaic acid on HGF production was synergistic with that of phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA) and epidermal growth factor (EGF), whereas it was additive to the effect of cholera toxin. The protein kinase C (PKC) inhibitor GF 109203X inhibited the effect of PMA, but not of okadaic acid and EGF. The effect of okadaic acid as well as EGF was not inhibited, but rather enhanced in human skin fibroblasts pretreated for 24 hr with a high dose of PMA to deplete PKC, as compared with its effect in untreated cells. PD 98059, an inhibitor of mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase kinase, suppressed the effects of okadaic acid and EGF, but not those of cholera toxin and 8-bromo-adenosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate (cAMP). These results suggest that HGF production in human skin fibroblasts is down-regulated by protein phosphatase(s) and that HGF production stimulated by okadaic acid is, at least in part, dependent on the activation of the MAP kinase cascade.