Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) is a stromal-derived cytokine that plays a crucial role in invasion and metastasis of tumor cells through the interaction with HGF receptor, c-Met, which is frequently overexpressed in pancreatic cancer. The present study was designed to investigate the change in HGF receptor and HGF-mediated signaling after irradiation in pancreatic cancer cells. Six cell lines from human pancreatic cancer were included in the study. Gamma-radiation was used for irradiation treatment. The changes in expression levels of c-Met were evaluated by immunoblot and confirmed morphologically by indirect immunofluorescence staining. Whether the resultant alteration in c-Met would cascade as biologically usable signals upon HGF ligation was traced by receptor tyrosine phosphorylation analysis and mitogen activated protein kinase (MAP kinase or MAPK) activity assay. The various biological responses to HGF (including cell proliferation, cell scattering, migration and invasion) were evaluated as well. We also used a 4-kringle antagonist of HGF, NK4, to block the HGF/c-Met signaling pathway. Both immunoblot and immunofluorescent analysis showed moderate increased expression of c-Met in 3 of 6 pancreatic cancer cell lines after irradiation. The actions seemed to be dose-responsible, which began at 3 hr and reached its peak value at 24 hr following irradiation. The radiation-increased expression of c-Met could transform into magnifying receptor tyrosine phosphorylation reaction and MAP kinase activity once the ligand was added, fairly corresponding with alteration in the receptor. Sequentially, the cellular responses to HGF, including scattering and invasion but not proliferation, were enhanced. Also, in the presence of HGF, the elevated receptor could help to recover the radiation-compromised cell migration. A recombinant HGF antagonist, NK4 could effectively block these aberrant effects activated by irradiation both in molecular and cellular levels, thus suggesting the deep involvement of the c-Met/HGF pathway in the enhanced malignant potential after irradiation. These results suggest that radiation may promote HGF-induced malignant biological behaviors of certain pancreatic cancer cells through the up-regulated HGF/c-Met signal pathway. Selectively targeted blockade of the HGF/c-Met pathway could help to abolish the enforced malignant behavior of tumor cells by irradiation and therefore may improve the efficacy of radiotherapy for pancreatic cancer.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.