Hepatoma-derived growth factor (HDGF), unrelated to hepatocyte growth factor, is a heparin-binding protein originally purified from human hepatoma HuH-7 cells. HDGF exhibits mitogenic activities for certain hepatoma cells, fibroblasts and vascular smooth muscle cells, and angiogenic activities through nuclear targeting. Recently, HDGF was found to be a mitogen for lung epithelial cells in vitro and in vivo. This suggests that HDGF may play a critical role in the development and progression of lung cancer. We investigated, immunohistochemically, the relationship between HDGF expression and clinicopathological variables, and the prognostic significance of HDGF in 102 patients with completely resected non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC: 70 adenocarcinomas and 32 squamous cell carcinomas). To address the mechanism of action of HDGF, we evaluated the contribution of HDGF to tumor cell proliferation and intratumor angiogenesis using anti-Ki-67 and anti-CD31 antibodies, respectively. HDGF expression was strongly detected in the nucleus of cancer cells; the HDGF-labeling index (LI) was 20-95% (median 64.5%). There was no significant association between HDGF-expression level and clinicopathological variables. Patients with NSCLC showing a high HDGF-LI (> or =65%) had significantly worse overall and disease-free survivals than those with NSCLC showing a low HDGF-LI. Multivariate analysis revealed that HDGF is a significant independent prognostic factor, more powerful than pathological stage. Moreover, HDGF expression correlated with Ki-67-LI and intratumor microvessel density. We consider HDGF as a useful prognostic marker for patients with completely resected NSCLC and it may play a critical role in the pathobiology of lung cancer through its mitogenic and angiogenic activities.