Interstitial myofibroblasts are alpha-smooth muscle actin-positive cells that play a crucial role in the accumulation of excess extracellular matrix during renal interstitial fibrogenesis. Despite their importance in the pathogenesis of renal fibrosis, relatively little is known about the regulators and the mechanism controlling the activation of renal interstitial myofibroblasts in disease conditions. Here, we show that hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) acts as a potent inhibitor of the transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta1-mediated myofibroblastic activation from normal rat renal interstitial fibroblasts (NRK-49F). Simultaneous incubation of HGF abolished TGF-beta1-induced de novo alpha-smooth muscle actin expression, F-actin reorganization, and interstitial collagen I overproduction in a dose-dependent manner. To decipher the mechanism underlying HGF antagonizing TGF-beta1's action, we examined the effects of HGF on TGF-beta1-mediated Smad signaling. HGF neither inhibited Smad-2/3 phosphorylation and their association with Smad-4 induced by TGF-beta1, nor significantly affected inhibitory Smad-6 and -7 expression and cellular abundance of Smad transcriptional co-repressors in NRK-49F cells. However, pretreatment with HGF markedly attenuated activated Smad-2/3 nuclear translocation and accumulation. This action of HGF was apparently dependent on HGF-mediated extracellular signal-regulated kinase-1 and -2 (Erk-1/2) phosphorylation and activation. Inhibition of Erk-1/2 activation by Mek kinase inhibitor PD98059 restored TGF-beta1-mediated Smad-2/3 nuclear accumulation and myofibroblast activation. In vivo, HGF selectively blocked Smad-2/3 nuclear accumulation in renal interstitial cells in the fibrotic kidneys induced by unilateral ureteral obstruction. Therefore, HGF suppresses TGF-beta1-mediated renal interstitial myofibroblastic activation; and this action of HGF is likely related to a mitogen-activated protein kinase-dependent blockade of Smad nuclear translocation.