The effect of hepatocyte growth factor/scatter factor (HGF/SF) and epidermal growth factor (EGF) on cadherin-mediated adhesion of human carcinoma cells was studied. HGF/SF induced scattering of colonic adenocarcinoma HT29 and gastric adenocarcinomas MKN7 and MKN74 cells. Likewise, EGF induced scattering of HT29 and MKN7 cells. These cells expressed E-cadherin, which was concentrated at cell-cell contact sites. When the scattering of these cells was induced by HGF/SF or EGF, the E-cadherin concentration at cell-cell boundaries tended to decrease. Immunoblotting analyses, however, demonstrated that these growth factor treatments did not alter the expression of E-cadherin and E-cadherin-associated proteins, alpha- and beta-catenin and plakoglobin. beta-Catenin, plakoglobin and an unidentified 115-kDa molecule associated with E-cadherin were found to be phosphorylated at tyrosine residues, and these phosphorylations were enhanced by the growth factor treatments. These results suggest that HGF/SF and EGF may modulate the function of the cadherin-catenin system via tyrosine phosphorylation of cadherin-associated proteins.