EMT6 is a transplantable mouse mammary tumor cell line that has been utilized widely as a model system to study the effects of various treatments on local tumor growth and pulmonary metastasis. In this study, we examined the cellular mechanisms by which scatter factor (SF), a fibroblast-derived cytokine that stimulates epithelial cell motility, may contribute to tumor-cell dissemination, using the EMT6 model system. In vitro, SF stimulated EMT6 cell motility, invasiveness and cell-surface expression of urokinase (an enzyme required for cell migration through tissue). SF differentially stimulated EMT6 cell adhesion to and migration onto surfaces coated with collagen I and laminin. EMT6 cells treated in vitro with SF and injected i.v. into isogeneic BALB/c-Rw mice showed a small but significant increase (1.7-fold) in lung colony formation as compared with control cells. For EMT6 cells in vitro, SF had no effect on DNA synthesis, cell proliferation, cell size distribution, or in vitro colony-forming ability. Thus, the increase in lung colonization may be due to enhanced ability of SF-treated cells to adhere to subendothelial basement membrane or to invade through tissue. Studies of the tissue distribution of SF in BALB/c-Rw mice demonstrated high levels of active factor in the lung. Thus, the presence of endogenous pulmonary SF may have reduced the degree to which SF treatment stimulated EMT6 lung colonization. Significant SF activity was also found in extracts of EMT6 tumors. Cultured EMT6 cells did not produce SF, but did produce high titers of a soluble low-molecular-weight protein activity that is capable of stimulating SF production in human fibroblasts 3- to 5-fold. EMT6 tumor extracts contained high titers of a similar SF-inducing activity. These observations suggest that SF may contribute to the invasive and metastatic phenotype of EMT6 cells via a paracrine mechanism in which tumor cells induce the production of SF in stromal fibroblasts.