Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) has been proposed as an endogenous cardioprotective agent against oxidative stress. The mechanism of HGF action in the heart, however, has not yet been elucidated. The present study demonstrates that HGF protects adult cardiac myocytes against oxidative stress-induced apoptosis. HGF, at the concentrations which can be detected in the plasma of humans subsequent to myocardial infarction, effectively attenuated death of isolated adult rat cardiac myocytes and cultured HL-1 cardiac muscle cells induced by apoptosis-inducing oxidative stress stimuli such as daunorubicin, serum deprivation, and hydrogen peroxide. We identified expression of c-Met HGF receptor in adult cardiac myocytes, which can be rapidly tyrosine phosphorylated in response to HGF treatment. HGF also activated MEK, p44/42 MAPK, and p90RSK. To determine if MEK-MAPK pathway may be involved in the mechanism of HGF-mediated cardiac myocyte protection, effects of a specific MEK inhibitor, PD98059, were studied. Pretreatment of cells with PD98059 partially blocked HGF signaling for protection against hydrogen peroxide-induced cell death. Thus, HGF protects cardiac myocytes against oxidative stress, in part, via activating MEK-MAPK pathway.