Effect of hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) on normal human epidermal keratinocytes cultured under conditions of low Ca2+ (0.1 mM, growth-promoting condition) and physiological Ca2+ (1.8 mM, differentiation-promoting condition) was investigated. In low Ca2+, HGF markedly enhanced the migration of keratinocytes while it suppressed cell growth and DNA synthesis in a dose-dependent manner. In contrast, HGF enhanced the migration, cell growth, and DNA synthesis of keratinocytes cultured under conditions of physiological Ca2+. The maximal stimulation of DNA synthesis (2.4-fold stimulation) in physiological Ca2+ was seen at 2.5-5 ng/ml HGF and the stimulatory effect of HGF was suppressed by transforming growth factor-beta 1. Analysis of the HGF receptor using 125I-HGF as a ligand showed that human keratinocytes expressed a single class of specific, saturable receptor for HGF in both low and physiological Ca2+ conditions, exhibiting a Kd = 17.3 pM and approximately 690 binding sites/cell under physiological Ca2+. Thus, HGF is a potent factor which enhances growth and migration of normal human keratinocytes under conditions of physiological Ca2+. HGF may play an important role in epidermal tissue repair as it enhances both the migration and growth of keratinocytes.