Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) and its receptor c-Met are involved in liver regeneration. The role of HGF and c-Met in liver regeneration in rat following two-thirds partial hepatectomy (PHx) was investigated using RNA interference to silence HGF and c-Met in separate experiments. A mixture of 2 c-Met-specific short hairpin RNA (ShRNA) sequences, ShM1 and ShM2, and 3 HGF-specific ShRNA, ShH1, ShH3, and ShH4, were complexed with linear polyethylenimine. Rats were injected with the ShRNA/PEI complex 24 hours before and at the time of PHx. A mismatch and a scrambled ShRNA served as negative controls. ShRNA treatment resulted in suppression of c-Met and HGF mRNA and protein compared with that in controls. The regenerative response was assessed by PCNA, mitotic index, and BrdU labeling. Treatment with the ShHGF mixture resulted in moderate suppression of hepatocyte proliferation. Immunohistochemical analysis revealed severe suppression of incorporation of BrdU and complete absence of mitosis in rats treated with ShMet 24 hours after PHx compared with that in controls. Gene array analyses indicated abnormal expression patterns in many cell-cycle- and apoptosis-related genes. The active form of caspase 3 was seen to increase in ShMet-treated rats. The TUNEL assay indicated a slight increase in apoptosis in ShMet-treated rats compared with that in controls.
Conclusion: The data indicated that in vivo silencing of c-Met and HGF mRNA by RNA interference in normal rats results in suppression of mRNA and protein, which had a measurable effect on proliferation kinetics associated with liver regeneration.