Hepatocyte growth factor/MET in cancer progression and biomarker discovery

Cancer Sci. 2017 Mar;108(3):296-307. doi: 10.1111/cas.13156.


Signaling driven by hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) and MET receptor facilitates conspicuous biological responses such as epithelial cell migration, 3-D morphogenesis, and survival. The dynamic migration and promotion of cell survival induced by MET activation are bases for invasion-metastasis and resistance, respectively, against targeted drugs in cancers. Recent studies indicated that MET in tumor-derived exosomes facilitates metastatic niche formation and metastasis in malignant melanoma. In lung cancer, gene amplification-induced MET activation and ligand-dependent MET activation in an autocrine/paracrine manner are causes for resistance to epidermal growth factor receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitors and anaplastic lymphoma kinase inhibitors. Hepatocyte growth factor secreted in the tumor microenvironment contributes to the innate and acquired resistance to RAF inhibitors. Changes in serum/plasma HGF, soluble MET (sMET), and phospho-MET have been confirmed to be associated with disease progression, metastasis, therapy response, and survival. Higher serum/plasma HGF levels are associated with therapy resistance and/or metastasis, while lower HGF levels are associated with progression-free survival and overall survival after treatment with targeted drugs in lung cancer, gastric cancer, colon cancer, and malignant melanoma. Urinary sMET levels in patients with bladder cancer are higher than those in patients without bladder cancer and associated with disease progression. Some of the multi-kinase inhibitors that target MET have received regulatory approval, whereas none of the selective HGF-MET inhibitors have shown efficacy in phase III clinical trials. Validation of the HGF-MET pathway as a critical driver in cancer development/progression and utilization of appropriate biomarkers are key to development and approval of HGF-MET inhibitors for clinical use.

Keywords: HGF; MET; Biomarker; drug resistance; receptor tyrosine kinase.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Survival
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / genetics
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Epithelial Cells / pathology*
  • ErbB Receptors / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Hepatocyte Growth Factor / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Hepatocyte Growth Factor / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / pathology*
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-met / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-met / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-met / metabolism*
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • HGF protein, human
  • Hepatocyte Growth Factor
  • ALK protein, human
  • Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase
  • EGFR protein, human
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-met
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases