We report the cloning of fulllength cDNAs for a plasminogen-related growth factor, hepatocyte growth factor/scatter factor (HGF/SF), its tyrosine kinase receptor, c-met, and a close member of the same family, hepatocyte growth factor-like/macrophage stimulating protein (HGF1/MSP), from the chick. We have used these cDNAs to provide the first report of the expression of this family of growth factors and the c-met receptor at early stages of vertebrate development. RNAase protection and wholemount in situ hybridization were used on chick embryos between formation of the primitive streak and early organogenesis. We find patterns of expression for HGF/SF and its receptor c-met consistent with their known roles in epithelial-mesenchymal transformation and angiogenesis. In addition, these genes and HGF1/MSP are expressed in discrete locations within developing somites, suggesting a role in paraxial mesodermal development. Very strong and early expression of HGF/SF in the elevating limb buds suggests its involvement in limb outgrowth. HGF1/MSP is expressed in the notochord and then in the prospective floor plate region and could play a role in development of the neural tube. Interestingly, c-met is often more closely associated with HGF1/MSP than with its known ligand, HGF/SF, raising the possibility that c-met expression may be induced by HGF1/MSP.