NK4 (HGF-antagonist/angiogenesis inhibitor) in cancer biology and therapeutics

Cancer Sci. 2003 Apr;94(4):321-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1349-7006.2003.tb01440.x.


Invasion and subsequent establishment of metastasis are devastating events for patients with cancer, but past therapeutic approaches have paid relatively little attention to these important issues. Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) and its receptor, the c-Met tyrosine kinase, play roles in cancer invasion and metastasis in a wide variety of tumor cells. Activation of the c-Met receptor integrates multiple signal transduction pathways involved in cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions, cellular migration, and breakdown of the extracellular scaffold. Paracrine activation of the c-Met receptor by stromal-derived HGF mediates tumor-stromal interactions that facilitate invasion and metastasis. Likewise, aberrant expression of the c-Met receptor and autocrine or mutational activation of c-Met receptor tyrosine kinase are closely associated with the progression of malignant tumors. Based on this background, NK4, a competitive antagonist of HGF-c-Met association was prepared so as to block cancer invasion and metastasis. NK4, an internal fragment of HGF, binds to but does not activate the c-Met receptor, thereby competitively antagonizing the biological activities of HGF. Unexpectedly, NK4 was subsequently shown to be an angiogenesis inhibitor as well, and this angioinhibitory activity is independent of its action as an HGF-antagonist. Importantly, NK4 protein or NK4 gene therapy have been shown to inhibit tumor invasion, metastasis and angiogenesis, effectively converting malignant tumors into benign tumors. Targeting tumor invasion-metastasis and angiogenesis with NK4 seems to have considerable therapeutic potential for cancer patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Angiogenesis Inhibitors / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Genetic Therapy
  • Hepatocyte Growth Factor / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Hepatocyte Growth Factor / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mitogens*
  • Neoplasms / blood supply
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-met / metabolism


  • Angiogenesis Inhibitors
  • HGF protein, human
  • Mitogens
  • Hepatocyte Growth Factor
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-met