Invasion and metastasis of oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) is dependent on signals received from stromal fibroblasts present in the surrounding connective tissue. The aim of this study was to investigate the regulation of expression of two important signaling molecules--HGF and SDF-1--by both stromal fibroblasts and their 'activated' form, myofibroblasts, and to determine the role of these two factors in stimulating OSCC cell invasion in vitro. Fibroblasts and myofibroblasts produced similar levels of HGF and SDF-1. IL-1alpha and OSCC cell conditioned medium both stimulated HGF and SDF-1 expression, while TGF-beta(1) inhibited production of each factor. Myofibroblast-derived conditioned medium stimulated OSCC cell invasion through matrigel. Blocking antibodies to both HGF and SDF-1 reduced the level of invasion. In fibroblast-free organotypic raft cultures, addition of HGF and SDF-1 stimulated OSCC cell invasion into the underlying collagen gel, although the pattern of invasion differed from that induced by fibroblasts. Fibroblast-derived HGF and SDF-1 appear to play central roles in the reciprocal interactions between OSCC cells and underlying stromal fibroblasts leading to the local invasion of oral cancer.